Ironic Copper: The Story of Copper’s Environmental Destruction

Technological advances allowed underground mining to occur because they allowed mining companies to push underground mining to its absolute limits, specifically in terms of depth and danger. The two most compelling examples of advances discussed by Tim LeCain that outline this point are the improvement of steam and air pumps, most notably the Knowles Steam Pump, and Draeger helmets. The Knowles Steam Pump was advertised as having the ability to pump out gritty and corrosive water from mines up to 1,000 feet deep (Tim Lecain, p. 44). Obviously, this changed the scale of mining depth to incredibly new levels as they allowed companies to dig deeper for richer ore deposits. Unfortunately, miners were exposed to hotter and more humid conditions, which led to poor underground air quality and fatal lung diseases (Lecain, p. 45). This is where Draeger helmets enter the story, as they allowed miners to carry their own supply of air into mines (Lecain, p. 46). However, these revolutionary helmets were then abused as companies required miners reenter toxic abandoned mines that certainly would have killed them nearly instantly without any filtered air (Lecain, p. 46-47).

Moving into today’s mining world, however, safety standards and pre-mining processes have improved dramatically. Environmental Impact Assessments are certainly one of the most helpful pre-mining processes that help ensure the environmental safety of mines. During a mining project, however, stricter and more consistent environmental checks should be conducted to ensure the toxic waste figures presented are accurate and being handled appropriately. This process should also follow mining companies after mining projects bankrupt or conclude, as to keep these people liable for any destruction they cause. My experience growing up in a small mining town, however, showed me that mining seemingly cannot be safe for humans and certainly not for the environment; simply, the consequential waste looms largely over any precautions that can be taken. Unfortunately, humans require clean water and land to survive, so mining undoubtedly must be safe for plants, animals, and humans alike.