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Mines are dug into the earth to take out ores, coal, precious stones, solid fuels, and other materials.

See also: Lead Methane Natural Gas Uranium Radon Asbestos Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

What are they?

Abandoned mines are sites where mining activities occurred, but acceptable mine closure and reuse of the site did not take place or were incomplete. There are as many as 500,000 abandoned mines in the United States. They exist on private and federal lands. Many are near recreational and fishing areas.

Most abandoned coal mines are in the East, primarily in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Most abandoned ore and metal mines are in the West. Most abandoned uranium mines are in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

Why are they a concern?

Abandoned mines pose serious threats to human health and safety. These sites have dangerous shafts and openings. Old support structures may be rotten and cause cave-ins. There may be pockets of air in the mines with little or no oxygen. Lethal amounts of deadly gases can build up in underground mine passages. Soil and water in abandoned mines may be contaminated. Sinkholes may form on the ground over an abandoned mine.

Unused or misfired explosives left behind in abandoned mines can become unstable and deadly. Loose materials in piles or trash heaps can collapse on hikers. Mine sites may include piles of waste, power lines, old heavy equipment, fuel storage tanks, electric machinery, and radioactive materials. Open pits may be filled with contaminated water. Water-filled quarries can hide hazards such as rock ledges and old machinery.

What pollutants are of greatest concern?

Lethal concentrations of deadly gases can accumulate in underground mine passages, including:

Soil and water in abandoned mines may be contaminated with:

Communities near active or abandoned mines may be at risk.

What is it?

Mining is the extraction of mineral resources from the earth. Surface mining methods include strip mining, open pit mining, and quarrying. Underground mining takes resources from below the surface of the earth and brings them to the surface.

Why is it a concern?

Mining presents many health and safety concerns. Workers may be exposed to pollutants, including carcinogens and radioactive waste.

Coal mining workers are more likely to be killed or suffer an injury or illness than workers in private industry as a whole. A coal miner’s injuries are also more likely to be severe, according the U.S. Department of Labor. Coal miners can contract black lung disease, emphysema, and bronchitis by inhaling large amounts of coal mine dust.

Silica dust is a concern in the mining of metals, nonmetals, stone, and gravel. It is more toxic than coal dust. Silicosis is a disabling and often fatal lung disease caused by breathing dust containing high levels of crystalline silica.

What pollutants are of greatest concern and who is at risk?

Depending on the type of mine, workers may be exposed to a number of pollutants, including:

Communities near active or abandoned mines may also be at risk.

Additional Resources
  • Hazards Emphasized (University of Arizona)

    Information on arsenic, mine tailings, and associated environmental and health hazards from a university research program that addresses the health effects of contaminants of concern in the US Southwest, and characterizes, contains, and remediates hazardous waste sites.

  • Abandoned Mine Lands Portal (Abandoned Mine Lands Portal Partnership)

    A website on the environmental, health, and safety impacts of abandoned mine lands across the country.

Reduce your risk

  • Do you live near an active or abandoned mine?
  • Do you use  well water?
  • Routinely check your well water for pollution.
  • If your well water has high levels of pollution, contact your local or state health agency. Ask these agencies for information on how to reduce your exposure.
  • If your well water contains chemical levels above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking water advisory levels, consider using bottled water for drinking and cooking, or use an activated carbon filtration system or reverse osmosis system.
  • Do not play or hike in or near active or abandoned mines.
  • Never allow children to play or go in or near active or abandoned mines.
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