Environmental Impacts Of Mining Natural Aggregate

  • William H. Langer
  • Belinda F. Arbogast
Part of the Nato Science Partnership Subseries: 2 (closed) book series (ASEN2, volume 80)


Nearly every community in nearly every industrialized or industrializing country is dependent on aggregate resources (sand, gravel, and stone) to build and maintain their infrastructure. Indeed, even agrarian communities depend on well-maintained transportation systems to move produce to markets. Unfortunately, aggregate resources necessary to meet societal needs cannot be developed without causing environmental impacts.

Most environmental impacts associated with aggregate mining are benign. Extracting aggregate seldom produces acidic mine drainage or other toxic affects commonly associated with mining of metallic or energy resources. Other environmental health hazards are rare. Most of the impacts that are likely to occur are short-lived, easy to predict and easy to observe. By employing responsible operational practices and using available technology, most impacts can be controlled, mitigated or kept at tolerable levels and can be restricted to the immediate vicinity of the aggregate operation.

The most obvious environmental impact of aggregate mining is the conversion of land use, most likely from undeveloped or agricultural land use, to a (temporary) hole in the ground. This major impact is accompanied by loss of habitat, noise, dust, blasting effects, erosion, sedimentation, and changes to the visual scene.

Mining aggregate can lead to serious environmental impacts. Societal pressures can exacerbate the environmental impacts of aggregate development. In areas of high population density, resource availability, combined with conflicting land use, severely limits areas where aggregate can be developed, which can force large numbers of aggregate operations to be concentrated into small areas. Doing so can compound impacts, thus transforming what might be an innocuous nuisance under other circumstances into severe consequences. In other areas, the rush to build or update infrastructure may encourage relaxed environmental or operational controls. Under looser controls, aggregate operators may fail to follow responsible operational practices, which can result in severe environmental consequences.

The geologic characteristics of aggregate deposits (geomorphology, geometry, physical and chemical quality) play a major role in the intensity of environmental impacts generated as a result of mining. Mining deposits that are too thin or contain too much unsuitable material results in the generation of excessively large mined areas and large amounts of waste material. In addition, some geologic environments, such as active stream channels, talus slopes, and landslide-prone areas, are dynamic and respond rapidly to outside stimuli, which include aggregate mining. Some geomorphic areas and (or) ecosystems serve as habitat for rare or endangered species. Similarly, some geomorphic features are themselves rare examples of geologic phenomena. Mining aggregate might be acceptable in some of these areas but should be conducted only after careful consideration and then only with extreme prudence. Failure to do so can lead to serious, long-lasting environmental consequences, either in the vicinity of the site or even at locations distant from the site.

Mining generates a disturbed landscape. The after-mining use of the land is an important aspect of reducing environmental impacts of aggregate extraction. The development of mining provides an economic base and use of a natural resource to improve the quality of human life. Wisely restoring our environment requires a design plan and product that responds to a site’s physiography, ecology, function, artistic form, and public perception. Forward-looking mining operators who employ modern technology and work within the natural restrictions can create a second use of mined-out aggregate operations that often equals or exceeds the pre-mined land use. Poor aggregate mining practices, however, commonly are accompanied by poor reclamation practices, which can worsen already existing environmental damage.

With environmental concerns, operating mines and reclaimed mine sites can no longer be considered isolated from their surroundings. Site analysis of mine works needs to go beyond site-specific information and relate to the regional context of the greater environment. Understanding design approach can turn features perceived by the public as being undesirable (mines and pits) into something perceived as being desirable.


Environmental Impact Acidic Mine Drainage Visual Scene Aggregate Mining Aggregate Resource 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • William H. Langer
    • 1
  • Belinda F. Arbogast
    • 1
  1. 1.U.S. Geological SurveyDenverUSA

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