Hesperian Health Guides

When a Mine Closes

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 21: Mining and Health > When a Mine Closes

Before a mining operation begins, the company must study what the environmental and social effects of the mine will be. This study, called an Environmental Impact Assessment or EIA should plan for ways to reduce harm and to clean up the site when the mine is closed. It should also make sure that people and communities harmed by mining activities are paid for any damage they suffer.

A closed entrance to a mine labeled "Danger, Do Not Enter."

When a mine is closed, the mining operator, with oversight from the government mining authority, is responsible for restoring the site to make it safe for future use. Mining companies and mine operators should:

  • remove toxic materials, machinery, and mining structures.
  • fill holes, close off tunnels, fence dangerous areas, and clearly mark these areas with signs.
  • stabilize cliff faces, pit walls, and waste dumps to reduce erosion and prevent collapse.
  • restore soil and cover the area with healthy soil and plants.
  • restore damaged waterways.
  • treat polluted water for as long as necessary.

In some countries, mining companies are required to put up money (called a bond) before they begin work. The bond is a way to make sure that the company cleans the site after the mine closes. The bond money is used if the company goes bankrupt or does not have enough money to restore the area. If the amount of the bond is less than the costs of restoring land and paying for damages from mining, the company may not fulfill its responsibilities. To make sure that companies fulfill their responsibilities, communities or governments need to negotiate for a bond that is high enough. It is usually better to demand one large bond for an entire project, rather than smaller bonds for each separate part of the project.

Restoring damaged land

Dirty water flows through an eroded valley.
After mining and before restoration

If land is damaged by erosion and loss of topsoil, it can be restored over time. But land that is badly damaged by mine waste and chemicals may be very difficult and costly to restore, if it can be restored at all. It is so difficult, in fact, that few mines have been completely restored.

Restoring and replanting damaged land should be the responsibility of mine owners and operators. But mining communities, with or without support from government, usually must pressure the mining companies to make sure they fulfill this responsibility.

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New plants growing 5 years after replanting

To restore and replant mined lands, toxic waste must be prevented from washing or blowing away, and acid mine drainage must be prevented. It takes a lot of work over many years to bring land back to a healthy state.

If land cannot be mined safely and responsibly, it should not be mined at all.

Clean river water flows through a valley filled with grass, trees and plants.
Full plant cover 20 years after replanting