Environmental and Social Pressures in Mining. Results from a Sustainability Hotspots Screening
1.1. Mining and the Sustainable Development Goals
1.2. Mining and the European Policy Framework
- Efficient water recycling, through a reduction in water consumption up to more than 90%, improved water quality, efficient water treatment, and recovery of valuable elements from process water.
- Tailings valorization, with the creation of geopolymers to be used as backfill material and tailings cover, or simply sold as products. Furthermore, the rest of the tailings is planned to be deposited as a filter dry cake.
- Minimization of the environmental footprint, by reducing emissions to the environment, freshwater intake, and the risk of dam accidents.
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Qualitative Modelling Approach
- Variables: external measures and requirements that have an influence on ore mining and processing. This includes, for instance, water quality (see Figure 1a) and security prescriptions, which affect, respectively, the water cleaning effort and the workers’ safety.
- External conditions: the mining activity often depends on a number of external situations linked with the area where the site is located, such as hydrological and geological variables, Figure 1b. They may deeply affect the efficiency and the impacts of the operations; on the other side, it might be very difficult to influence the action of those external conditions.
- State boxes: elements of the mining and processing operations, which are influenced by the external variables and conditions, consequently exercising a pressure on the environmental and social dimensions. See Figure 2a.
- Arrows: they are crucial to define the cause-effect relations in the diagram. A blue arrow from “a” to “b” and a “+” sign indicate that “if “a” increases, then “b” increases”; a green arrow from “a” to “b” and a “-” sign indicate that “if “a” increases, then “b” decreases”. For instance, Figure 2b shows that if dry tailings protection increases, tailings leaking may be reduced; on the other side, if tailings leaking occurs, the effort spent on leaking treatment increases.
- Inputs: they are elementary and product flows used by processes related to ore mining and processing. These inputs include any energy and consumable, water, and land use, as displayed in Figure 3.
- Risks, occurring in different stages of ore mining and processing, see Figure 4a. They can be reduced by mitigation measures or the implementation of specific new technologies.
- Impacts: pressures on the environment or societal stakeholders, Figure 4b. They can be either positive or negative. They include, for instance, impacts on local communities, workers, ecosystems, and resources.
2.2. LCA Screening Approach
- Definition of the processes to be investigated: the first focus was set on copper ore mining. However, when related processes were not available in the databases, the focus was extended to mining of metal ores.
- Definition of the locations to be considered for the chosen processes: Finland, Portugal, and South Africa were set as the main focus of the study as the validation sites for the ITERAMS technologies are located in these three countries. Regarding the ELCA screening performed with EXIOBASE, the “copper ores and concentrates” sector was analyzed for Finland, Portugal, and South Africa. On the other side, in the case of the ELCA screening with ecoinvent, the analysis of copper mining had to be extended to Europe as country-specific processes were not available in the database. Copper mining impacts could not be assessed for South Africa using the ecoinvent database. However, moving beyond the first focus of the study, potential environmental impacts of copper mining in South America were evaluated using ecoinvent, given the intention of applying the ITERAMS combined solutions to that region as well in the future. Regarding the SLCA screening, Finland and Portugal were the only two countries analyzed as the third validation site in South Africa had not been identified at the time of the study. The interpretation of SLCA results, in fact, requires a number of background information, which cannot be collected in absence of a specific site location.
- Performance of the environmental LCA screening. The starting point was the comparison of information contained in the databases and the specific details given by the ITERAMS project proposal, for instance regarding water consumption for copper ore processing. Afterwards, environmental hotspots were detected from the calculation of the impacts derived from the processes in the databases. Finally, this was followed by a reflection on the common and different issues which emerged from the analysis of the same process occurring in diverse geographic regions or countries.
- Performance of the social LCA screening. At first, high and very high social risks were identified considering those directly associated with the mining processes to be analyzed. The identification procedure of high and very high social risks was based on the analysis of the risk levels reported in the PSILCA database for the different social indicators assigned to the metal ores mining sector in Finland and Portugal. Afterwards, potential social impacts were assessed including the upstream chain, hence leading to the definition of the social hotspots. Finally, results obtained from the calculation of mining processes were compared to social impacts generated by an average sector in the country. This latter operation was important to compare sector specific risks and impacts with the general social situation in the country.
- The study was complemented by the definition of complementary and overlapping issues between the environmental and social dimensions. Furthermore, possible trade-offs were investigated as well, as further explained in Section 4.1. Literature research was crucial for the interpretation of results and the definition of the background situations with an influence on the impacts detected with the LCA study.
2.3. Definition of the “Background Situations”
- Vulnerability of local communities, such as the already mentioned dependence on local water reserves. The human capital may have an influence on the impacts as well, for instance if a consistent share of the population suffers from HIV or respiratory problems, impacts generated by mining operations may worsen the health conditions of those weaker individuals.
- Conflicts with other competing sectors in the area, for instance, in terms of workforce or resource use. Considering the validation sites in Finland and Portugal, the local community in the area of the Portuguese mine lives from agriculture of olives and cork , while reindeer farming and nature tourism are two competing sectors in Northern Finland [9,20].
- Availability and status of local water and mineral resources. Information can be usually derived from national environment institutes. As for Finland, it is possible to highlight that the condition of freshwater is generally good, with the exception of coastal water where the ecological status is very poor due to eutrophication . In Portugal, the condition of surface water is classified as “reasonable” in most areas; however, some areas on the coast and inner central southern territories display a poor or very poor condition . It is necessary to clarify that data for Finland and Portugal are referred to 2015 and 2013 respectively.
- Importance of the sector for the national and local economy, considering for instance the contribution of mining in the national GDP or the share of local workers hired at the mine sites. For example, as of December 2015, 52% and 36% of workers in Kevitsa (Finland) are hired, respectively, locally (from Sodankylä) and regionally (from Lapland) .
- Risks at a national level, hence not related to the mining sector. They may include public sector corruption and sanitation and drinkable water coverage in the country. Indeed, social and socio-economic national and sector-specific risks can influence each other.
- Stability of risks and impacts over the life cycle, which may be useful to detect the contribution of the supply chain to overall results, hence leading to the identification of direct and indirect risks and impacts of the mining activity in a given area.
3.1. Results from the Qualitative CLD
3.2. Results from the Environmental LCA Screening
- ILCD 2011 Midpoint+: EU27 2010 normalization.
- ReCiPe midpoint H: World ReCiPe H normalization. The most recent ReCiPe method (2016) could not be used as normalization is not foreseen.
- CML-IA baseline: EU 25 normalization.
3.3. Results from the Social LCA Screening
4.1. Identification and Interpretation of the Sustainability Hotspots
4.2. Strength and Weakness of the Study
Conflicts of Interest
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|Geographic area||Finland (FI), Portugal (PT), South Africa (ZA), Europe (RER) and Latin America (RLA)||Finland (FI), Portugal (PT)|
|PSILCA v.2 1|
|LCIAM||ILCD 2011 Midpoint+, ReCiPe Midpoint H, CML-IA Baseline, Boulay et al. (2011), and built-in EXIOBASE LCIAM||PSILCA built-in Social Impacts Weighting Method|
|Process||Ecoinvent for RER and RLA-> copper mine operation |copper concentrate|; copper production, primary |copper|. EXIOBASE for FI, PT, and ZA -> copper ores and concentrates||PSILCA for FI and PT -> (Mining of) Metal ores|
|Environmental||Tailings leaking||Tailings composition, soil composition|
|Emissions from tailings||Tailings composition|
|Geopolymers creation from tailings||Tailings composition|
|Chemical products for flotation||Ore to be processed, flotation steps|
|Instability of water cycle||Ore to be processed, flotation steps, water recycle|
|Pond evaporation||Evaporation rate, local climatic conditions|
|Pond seepage||Vicinity of water resources, e.g., groundwater reserves, rivers|
|Water contamination from tailings||Vicinity of water resources, tailings composition|
|Efficiency of water treatment||Tailings composition, ore beneficiation steps and efficiency, type of reagents|
|Energy use for ore processing||Ore to be processed, flotation steps|
|Water quality||Water treatment process and related efficiency|
|Water pollution||Vicinity of water resources, tailings composition|
|Air quality||Emissions from ore beneficiation processes and tailings|
|Social||Unemployment rate in the country/area||Employment conditions in the area, incentives for industrial activities|
|Presence of safety measures at the workplace||Safety risk linked to ore beneficiation and wastewater treatment process|
|Air quality||Emissions from ore beneficiation process and tailings, preexisting air quality conditions|
|Water pollution||Importance of water resources for local communities|
|Industrial water use||Dependence of local communities on local water reserves|
|Accident rate at the workplace||Safety risk linked to ore beneficiation and wastewater treatment process|
|Water contamination from tailings||Importance of water resources for local communities|
|Vicinity of touristic areas to the mine||Tourist presence in the area, presence of cultural heritage and natural sites|
|Contribution of the sector to economic development||Importance of the mining sector for the local/national economy, share of the sector in the GDP|
|Risk of natural disasters||Preexisting natural local conditions (e.g., high risk of earthquakes), type of industrial activities in the area|
|Access to material resources||Availability of ores and other resources in the area, e.g., water|
|Presence of indigenous population||Share of indigenous population in the area, inclusion of indigenous people in the local society and economy, presence of negotiated agreements for indigenous water rights|
|Fair salary||Labor cost, minimum and living wage, workers’ wage|
|Working time||National regulation on working time, number and duration of shifts per day|
|Legal issues||Type of working contracts, national regulation on working contracts|
|Workers’ rights||Local situation regarding the respect of workers’ rights and freedom of association|
|Child/forced labor||National/local regulation on the topic, share of child/forced labor in the country/area/sector|
|Healthy living conditions||Pollution level of the country/area and sources of the pollution|
|Migration||Share of migrant workers in the sector, social inclusion policies|
|End of life responsibility||Local/national regulations promoting recycling, reuse, and responsible disposal|
|Country||Blue Water Withdrawal||Blue Water Consumption|
|m3||Top 3 drivers||m3||Top 3 drivers|
|Finland||0.01266||Electricity (gas), RU; Basic plastics, FI; Other business services, FI||0.00554||Additives, BR; Other business services, FI; Basic plastics, FI|
|m3||Top 3 drivers||m3||Top 3 drivers|
|South Africa||0.00551||Electricity (coal), ZA; Construction, ZA; Metal products, ZA||0.00516||Electricity (coal), ZA; Supporting transport, ZA; Construction, ZA|
|Portugal||0.00876||Electricity (gas), PT; Electricity (petroleum and oil derivatives), PT; Distribution and trade services of electricity, PT||0.00223||Hotel and restaurant services, PT; Electricity (gas), PT; heavy fuel oil, PT|
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Di Noi, C.; Ciroth, A. Environmental and Social Pressures in Mining. Results from a Sustainability Hotspots Screening. Resources 2018, 7, 80. https://doi.org/10.3390/resources7040080
Di Noi C, Ciroth A. Environmental and Social Pressures in Mining. Results from a Sustainability Hotspots Screening. Resources. 2018; 7(4):80. https://doi.org/10.3390/resources7040080Chicago/Turabian Style
Di Noi, Claudia, and Andreas Ciroth. 2018. "Environmental and Social Pressures in Mining. Results from a Sustainability Hotspots Screening" Resources 7, no. 4: 80. https://doi.org/10.3390/resources7040080