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Open-pit mining

Open-pit mine in Maine contaminates soil, water and wildlife with heavy metals

Saturday, September 28, 2013 by: L.J. Devon, Staff Writer
Tags: open-pit mining, heavy metal contamination, environmental pollution

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(NaturalNews) Large-scale mining yields precious subterranean resources, but with all the digging and displacing, there comes consequences, especially in volatile environments that people depend on. With the open-pit mining comes the releasing and dumping of heavy metals and chemicals into the surrounding environment. This mass release is capable of affecting the surrounding food web and the health of humans in negative ways.

Spewing metals and contaminated sediment can wrack the food web for years. In an old mine in Maine, reports of heavy metal contamination have started pouring in from the EPA.
The old contaminated Maine mine is connected to the Goose Pond estuary in Brooksville, Maine.

Being so connected to an estuarine environment, the mine's heavy metal contamination has become more pervasive than ever, poisoning surrounding aquatic wildlife.

An estuarine environment is a partly enclosed coastal body of mild salt water that has one or more rivers or streams flowing into it and is also freely connected to the open sea.

A poisoned food web passing on contamination to humans

A new Dartmouth study, funded by the toxic metals superfund research program of the EPA, digs deeper into the ill effects that this open-pit mine has on the neighboring estuarine environment. The study shows how connected coastal marine food webs become saturated with heavy metal contamination, ultimately passing the poisons to humans who depend on that food web.
As predicted, researchers have already found high levels of copper, zinc, cadmium and lead in the surrounding sediment, in the water and in small fish like the killifish. The killifish live in the brackish water swamps near the ocean. Killifish are an important source of food for large bass - which are widely consumed by humans.

Levels of toxic metals in killifish were found to be so high that officials warn about heavy metal contamination passing to larger fish that many people catch and eat.

As the contamination trickles into the human population, the body's homeostasis is disrupted. Toxic metals like cadmium can obstruct thyroid function. Lead poisoning can lead to death, especially in smaller, developing young children. PCBs, which are being cleaned from the site, can wreak havoc on many bodily functions.

As the contamination is passed into the human body, toxic metals may become trapped in the cells, blocking utilization of nutrition, welcoming inflammation and disease.

Contamination moving in land

Dartmouth researcher Celia Chen said, ''There are areas where copper is still seeping out. It's being constantly renewed."

In fact, the mine's history dates back to 1968. In a five year period, more than 800,000 tons of copper and zinc were extracted from this mine, the Callahan Mining Corporation site. The miners used chemicals to extract the copper and zinc, ultimately leaving behind a large dump of contaminated soil that settled and began affecting the surrounding estuarine environment.

Since then, the mine has come into the hands of the EPA, who have declared the area a toxic wasteland requiring massive cleanup. Officials believe it will take five to ten years to clean up the toxic heavy metal contamination of arsenic and polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs, that have become embedded in the sediment.

All this cleanup may be too little, too late. The extent of the contamination goes beyond prior predictions. The effects of the mine's contamination are being observed in neighboring Penobscot Bay. Researchers have found that fish and birds in the bay have been feeding on heavily contaminated killifish.

How might the contamination ultimately affect the health of an entire community of Maine people who depend on fishing for food and livelihood?

To make matters worse, officials have discovered metal deposits in heavy concentration in specific sediments, suggesting a source of continual contamination that is yet to be identified.

What lessons can be learned from careless mining expenditures carried out in volatile environments where people depend on a clean ecosystem to thrive?

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