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Mining poses many environmental risks

Skorpion Zinc Mine

Skorpion Zinc Mine

Mining as an economic sector carries its own well-defined set of risk-related factors. These pertain to financing, source grade, operations and labour but the issue that attracts the most attention is mining’s impact on the environment. This also covers health concerns of both workers and residents.
In a study conducted by Phoebe Barnard, titled Biological Diversity in Namibia – a Country Study, it is stated that Namibia is covered with the remains of abandoned and un-rehabilitated mines and despite increased awareness of the threats to the environment posed by mining and its aftermath, there are still certain activities which severely threaten the environment. “When a mine has come to the end of its useful life, the mining activities end and it is often abandoned” Barnard added that unrehabilitated mines can cause visual pollution and many more problems can arise if measures are not taken to rehabilitate the area and make it safe.
Barnard however says that although mining causes environmental damage, the problems do not necessarily dissapear with the closure of the mine. In fact she says that the closure of the mine will doubtlessly cause severe economic hardship as the contribution that the mine makes to the economy of the local community cannot be underestimated. She says a town may have been created purely from the proceeds from mining and for the people who work at the mines and their families such as Kolmanskop but when the cost of maitaining the town becomes a burden, the mining company simply abandones it.
In his Mine Safety article, Dr. Woltan Swiegers states that the Chamber of Mines which works closely with the government to address health and environmental issues, must implement new measures where necessary and evaluate the effectiveness of updated intervention strategies. The Uranium Institute of the Chamber of Mines, aims at ensuring that all materials, processes, goods and services in the exploration, mining and processing of uranium are produced, consumed and disposed of in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.
He maintains that so far the safety record of the uranium mining industry is good by any standard and in essence, strict hygiene standards are imposed on workers handling the uranium oxide concentrate. Radiation dose records compiled by mining companies under the scrutiny of regulatory authorities have shown consistently that mining employees are not exposed to radiation doses in excess of the limits. “In practice radiation levels from the low-grade ore and tailings are usually very low and radiation exposure of workers in the mine, plant and tailings areas are limited and the maximum dose received is less than half of the internationally accepted 20 mSv/yr limit and the average is about one tenth of it,” says Dr. Swiegers.
However, Dr. Swiegers emphasised that successful measures of addressing the accumulative socio-economic impacts of mining and future mine closure requires a multi-stakeholder forum to establish guidelines for social and community engagement becasue the issue cannot be successfully adressed if adopted by one mining company only.

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