Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Energy
Department of Energy
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10/27/22  3:09 pm
Commenter: Dr. Mary Finley-Brook, Dept of Geog, Envt, & Sust, University of Richmond

Gold mining in Virginia

Gold mining would bring more problems to the Commonwealth that the potential benefits, especially because our state institutions are not prepared for this oversight role. Virginia’s lack of a comprehensive regulatory framework and insufficient bonding requirements put public health and drinking water at risk. Chemicals will be mobile and can seep into local wells. The majority of Buckingham county relies on private wells. Water pollution can also contaminate the James River, which provides drinking water to many communities downstream from Buckingham.

Local residents are deeply opposed to a potential large-scale mine and the impacts it can have on their groundwater supply, environment, and health. Large scale gold mining creates major long lasting water contamination nearly everywhere it is done, including in the US and Canada. Mining uses large quantities of water, meaning it is not available for other uses, such as farming and household uses (i.e., human consumption). The water discharged from mining operations contains harmful chemicals and heavy metals and is not safe for other productive uses. Exposure to heavy metals is particularly harmful to babies, children and pregnant women. Cancer-related risks associated with metal and metalloid exposure among children is higher than in adults. 

Mining involves movement of massive quantities of rocks and soil. Disruption contributes to sedimentation, which is attributed to property damage and ecosystem degradation during heavy wind and rain events. Fine sediments can deprive other organisms of oxygen and can lead to fish kills and harm to aquatic life required to maintain ecosystems.  Risk in Buckingham may be higher because of the proposed use of brownfields and former mining areas as processes could dredge up and release prior contamination. Pollution from mining is dangerous to livestock and can enter agricultural crops. The negative effects of metals on plants including oxidative stress, effects on fluorescence, stomatal resistance, chlorophyll and photosynthesis, reproductive processes, seed germination, seed morphology and seed physiology. In addition, elevated levels of heavy metals after gold mine tailings greatly affects the metabolism, growth and morphology of soil bacteria. Bacteria are essential in the decomposition of soil organic matter and any decline in bacterial diversity or biomass may have a profound effect in nutrient absorption from soil to plants.

Biomagnification can occur in fish and birds where chemicals build up in fatty tissue so levels become more toxic in large animals. This can harm biodiversity. Chemicals will spread throughout the food chain, including to game species people regularly or hunt to consume. 

Deforestation for mining contributes to dust, erosion, sedimentation, and habitat loss. Logging creates additional truck traffic and noise. Mining contributes to climate change through the loss of forests and because the heavy equipment burns diesel, releasing air pollution that is harmful to human health as well as the atmosphere.

There are a low number of jobs created with modern mining techniques because processes are highly mechanized. Nevertheless, while the workforces is small, there are risks from the jobs created - the most common occupational diseases as a result of long-term exposure in the gold mining environment are silicosis, silico-tuberculosis, pulmonary tuberculosis (TB), obstructive airways disease, occupational asthma, oral and/or nasal cavity erosions, diseases owing to ionising radiation, noise-induced hearing loss, whole body and hand-arm vibration syndrome, as well as repetitive strain injuries.

Noise from earth-moving equipment, blasting, drilling and crushing can have a number of physical effects on health, including raised blood pressure. 

In sum, there are too many dangerous harms and serious risks from large-scale gold mining.


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