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The beginning of the supply chain of the transition to green energy is not green at all, or rather, it is green with potentially dangerous concentrations of toxic waste.
That’s the conclusion of a new study by the University of Lincoln, UK, which showed on Friday that metal mining has had an extensive impact of contamination on rivers and floodplains across the world, with an estimated 23 million people believed to be affected by potentially dangerous concentrations of toxic waste.
The authors of the study, published in the journal Science on Friday, used hydrologic models to assess river system contamination from mines and failed tailings dams and determined the floodplains, people, and livestock that could be affected.
The study modelled contamination from all known active and inactive metal mining sites, including tailings storage facilities that are used to store mine waste. The authors looked at potentially harmful contaminants such as lead, zinc, copper, and arsenic. The results of the modelling in the study showed widespread reach of the contamination, which is estimated to have affected around 479,200 kilometers (297,760 miles) of river channels and encompassing 164,000 square kilometers (63,320 square miles) of floodplains globally.
More than 23.4 million people live on these affected floodplains, supporting 5.72 million livestock and encompassing over 65,000 square kilometers (25,000 square miles) of irrigated land.
Commenting on the study, Professor Mark Macklin, who led the multi-disciplinary, international team behind the research, said,
“We expect that this will make it easier to mitigate the environmental effects of historical and present mining and, most importantly, help to minimise the impacts of future mining development on communities, while also protecting food and water security.”
Earlier this year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a first-ever annual Critical Minerals Market Review that the market has doubled in recent years, but warned that limited sustainability in production and processing is one of the key challenges for the industry ahead, alongside limited source diversification.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com