t is difficult to imagine life without iron, aluminum, copper, zinc,
lead, gold, or silver. These and other metallic resources mined from
the Earth are vital building blocks of our civilization — and society’s
need for them is increasing. Metal mining in the United States has
evolved from small, simple operations to large, complex production and
processing systems. Some historic mining activities that occurred when
environmental consequences were poorly understood have left an unfortunate environmental legacy. Today, mining companies must plan for
and deal with environmental impacts before, during, and after mining.
Mineral deposits containing metals are mined from the surface in open
pit mines, or from underground. Later chapters describe the mining
process, which separates metals from the rocks and minerals in which
they occur, as well as potential environmental impacts and solutions.
Included in this chapter is basic information about metal mining: what
the environmental concerns are, how science and technology can help,
why metals are important, and the steps in the mining cycle.