There were many technological advances made by mining engineers that allowed the working miners to push into the treacherous depths of the Earth. Water pumps cleared underground bodies of water that hid metals. Air circulation systems moved fresh surface air down to the miners and created a workable (but far from comfortable) mining environment. Respirators allowed miners to work in toxic areas with resources that may have otherwise been left behind. These technologies permitted deep, underground mining and they were a “striking example of the emerging modern ability of human beings to create habitable environments in hostile natural circumstances.” (LeCain, 47) These advances were not without their consequences, however. Despite being designed to make working underground safer for the miners, they were sometimes the death of these men as well. The Speculator mine fire that killed 164 men was not so deadly because of the fire, but because the air circulation system moved toxic carbon monoxide into the depths of the mine. (LeCain, 50) Respirators didn’t always protect the miners from toxic gases, and some men died from inhaling deadly chemicals. The natural environment also suffered at the hands of these technologies. Runoff from the water pumps, filled with chemicals, made its way into streams and rivers. Tailings from deep in the mines were dumped into massive piles, like those visible outside of Anaconda, MT. While the technologies were vital in advancing our modern world with a supply of precious metals, they were also key factors in creating perhaps irreversible environmental damage.
I believe the negative aspects of mining should be handled just as any negative impacts from our exploits of nature; with consideration of the consequences, proper planning, and a (mostly) environmentally focused view. We should examine how our mining will affect the environment now, and 100 years in the future. We must consider how the tailings of the mine will be handled during and after the mining. Every aspect of mining and its environmental impacts must be examined. However, as the case with any technological fix, thinking we may be able to make mining completely safe to both us and nature will create problems we may not see for years to come. However, I don’t think mining needs to nor can be danger-free. Our modern world runs on the metals that these mines produce, and we are in no condition to change that. We should consider ways to create the least amount of environmental impact, whilst maximizing our extractions from the earth. If we do this, perhaps the three R’s of the mining industry can be truly green.