Mining must be done responsibly and limit impacts on current and future Missourians. Mining of certain critical minerals is important for technological devices we use in everyday life and for renewable energy infrastructure. Missouri Coalition for the Environment believes Missouri must embrace effective safe mining practices for the health and safety of mining workers, the surrounding communities, and future generations. MCE seeks to promote transparency regarding the adverse health and environmental impacts of mining various minerals, especially those that are of interest to renewable energy and national security interests. MCE urges our government leaders to implement greater protections, which we outline below, as well as urge mining companies to 1) institutionalize best safety practices for workers and surrounding communities, 2) develop extensive waste management plans, and 3) develop land rehabilitation plans. It has become increasingly important to understand the origin of the minerals in our phones, laptops, electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines, and more and the impact of mining these minerals has on the communities near and downstream from these sites. Earth’s minerals are finite. As such, there are risks associated with continuous mining of them. We believe Missouri must switch to a fossil fuel-free society for the sake of Missouri’s people and their environment. Missourians of all incomes, races, and corners of the state will be impacted by climate change, though some more than others. Missouri must develop a well thought out road map for this transition to avoid future environmental injustices and such a road map requires a robust regulatory framework governing mining operations and mining waste management.
MCE is most concerned about the health and environmental impacts of three minerals: cobalt, Rare Earth Elements (REEs), and silica sand. Cobalt and REEs are important for high tech devices such as phones and laptops and for some renewable energy infrastructure such as electric vehicle batteries and wind turbines. Silica sand, also known as “fracking sand” is predominantly used in the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” of natural gas. Silica sand mining has impacts on our health and environment and only furthers our reliance on fossil fuels, the burning of which contributes to increased extreme weather events. As such, we urge that Missouri halt all silica sand mining. The mining of cobalt and REEs also pose significant environmental and health impacts for current and future generations of Missourians. As such, we need increased government oversight of mining operations. This includes requiring proposed mining operators to submit detailed environmental assessments of their proposed operations and to adopt preventative measures once in operation to minimize harm. Below we have outlined some of the most significant concerns with mining these minerals.
Cobalt – Mining cobalt releases toxic particles that have the potential to cause an assortment of serious health ailments,2 including cancers, and lung, vision and male reproductive system harm. Cobalt particles from mining operations enter surface water, leading to degraded water quality and heightened levels of eutrophication.3
Rare Earth Elements (REEs) – Processing REEs involves the separation and removal of uranium and thorium, which results in radioactive wastes. Inhalation of REE gasses can cause lung embolisms, especially with long-term exposure. This concern with inhalation of REE gasses is particularly concerning from yttrium, which is the REE believed to be most prominent in Missouri. Yttrium can also cause lung cancer and damage to the liver. The wastewater discharge from mining yttrium is particularly concerning as it contains acids, radioactive elements, and heavy metals which have significant impacts on humans, fauna, and flora.
Silica sand or fracking sand – The mining, transport, processing, and use of silica sand in the fracking process for natural gas create the air pollutants particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) and respirable crystalline silica.5 Respirable crystalline silica can cause major problems when inhaled, including lung-related disease and kidney disease.6 Mining causes alteration of land structure due to excavation. Silica sand mines also cause interference with the land’s natural drainage, depletion of ground water sources, topsoil loss, degraded forestland, and harm to aquatic life in nearby waterways.7 The impacts are compounded by the harms from fracking natural gas. Studies have indicated that these gas and oil operations can lead to loss of habitat for animal and plant life, decline of species, disrupt animal migration which all leads to land degradation.8 They have also been associated with human health risks.9 Studies show associations between residential proximity to these mining operations and an increase in adverse effects such as risk of pregnancy effects, cancer, hospitalizations and asthma.10 Fracking operations that are located near marginalized communities disproportionately worsen the health and the environment of the individuals living there.11
Recommendations for Missouri Decisionmakers
MCE seeks to address considerations for mining operations that integrate public health and conservation efforts. If Missouri wants to leverage the mineral reserves in our state, we must do so in a manner that acknowledges risks and minimizes impacts to our social, economic, and environmental wellbeing through safe and responsible mining practices. This involves thorough analysis of the landscape on and surrounding a proposed mining site, the environmental resources that will be at risk of degradation or destruction if an operation opens, and the critical resources for healthy living that will be harmed including air quality and drinking water. Missouri must also require analysis of the short and long term impacts on other economic interests including tourism in nearby state parks and conservation areas, floating on Missouri’s many pristine rivers, and nearby agricultural and forestry activities. Lastly, we must balance the interest of certain minerals in the short term with the decades-long harms that may be felt once certain materials are brought up to the surface. In particular, we must use caution in allowing REE mining as it leads to radioactive exposure that could be felt by surrounding communities in their air, soil and water. Moreover, radioactive materials are known to move through air, soil, and water, risking the health of individuals downstream and downwind, tourists who float on adjacent waterways and who hike in our state parks, and consumers of food grown in these soils. In addition to practices that will minimize all of these risks, we also must ensure practices are in place to prevent harms from unexpected spills and fires, from certain waste management practices, and from mine closures and cleanups. We must also prioritize use of energy efficiency at these facilities to reduce the greenhouse gas emission contribution from mining operations in the face of increased extreme weather events due to climate change. We must also utilize practices that minimize water quantity depletion, minimize waste generation, and protect ecosystem services from surrounding areas.12
To protect the health and safety of 1) communities living near mineral reserves, 2) communities that rely on the air, water, and soil resources that would be impacted by mining operations, and 3) residents of both of these communities decades from now, we must ensure the public is adequately informed about proposed mines and the risks involved. This includes ensuring the public is given ample opportunity to weigh in on whether such operations are a good fit for their communities. As such, MCE recommends the Missouri Legislature (the Legislature), the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and elected officials of political subdivisions with mining reserves advance the following policies.
Notice to the Public
The Legislature shall require the following public notices to help Missourians be informed of proposed mining operations:
- DNR shall publish notices of all proposed mining permits on their website. Currently, the department does not even require permits for mining “metallic minerals,” which are “minerals or mineral ores containing lead, iron, zinc, copper, gold and silver” pursuant to RSMo. 444.765.
- Within one week of submission of a permit application to the staff director,13 the proposed operator shall submit notice of the permit application to the qualifying local newspapers. Currently only notice is required for “intent to mine” pursuant to RSMo. 444.110.
- The staff director shall require proof of newspaper public notice from the proposed operator before considering a permit application complete.
- Once an application is submitted, all proposed mining operators shall provide notice of the application submission by mail to all landowners who have property within one mile from the border of the proposed mine.
- Once an application is submitted, all proposed mining operators shall also provide notice to the qualifying local newspapers.
Mining Operations Requiring Permits
- The Legislature shall require all proposed mining operators to obtain permits from DNR, including those seeking to mine metallic minerals. The public deserves to know where these mines are and the associated risks to which they are exposed.
- The Legislature shall expand some definitions related to mining of minerals:
- Metallic minerals and nonmetallic minerals shall both be within Land Reclamation Program’s (LRP) permitting authority.
- Aluminum shall be added to the definition of “metallic minerals.”
- Metallic minerals shall be added to the definition of “minerals” under the LRP permitting authority.
- Silica sand shall be added to the definition of “minerals” under LRP permitting authority.
- Stone, sand, gravel, clay, peat, talc, and topsoil (other nonmetallics that are not currently in the “metallic minerals” definition) shall be added to the definition of “minerals” under LRP permitting authority.
Permissible Mining Location
The Legislature shall prohibit the opening of mines within one mile from schools, homes, wildlife refuges, surface waters, state parks and conservation areas, and federal parks.
The Legislature shall direct DNR to publish all mining permit applications on their website and allow for public comment for sixty days after receipt of the application. Those who may have a “direct personal interest” in the proposed mining operation shall have up to thirty (30) days to request a public hearing. Currently, they are only afforded fifteen (15) days.
Stronger Protections in the Permit Application
The Legislature shall require increased requirements in permit application, including:
- Specifics for the conservation plan required pursuant to RSMo. 444.722
- A hydrogeological evaluation
- Results from a water resource needs assessment
- Analysis of short term and long term environmental consequences that cannot be voided
- Analysis of potential hazards
- Monitoring plans for air quality, groundwater, and surface water
- Environmental assessment worksheets for proposed operations mining cobalt, REEs and silica sand.
Penalties for Improperly Mining
- The Legislature shall increase fines for mining without a permit to $5,000-$10,000/day.
- The Legislature shall increase fines for operating mines in cities or towns with 1,000 inhabitants or more to not less than one thousand dollars and increase potential jail time for the same offense to not less than one year.
Greater Government Oversight of Mines in Operation and Closed
- The Legislature shall require all mining operations to submit annual reports to DNR including practices used to minimize health and environmental harm, data from air and water monitoring, volume of greenhouse gas emissions emitted, volume of discharge into waterbodies, and volume and type of minerals mined.
- The Legislature shall pass stronger protections for abandoned mines.
- The Legislature shall require stronger DNR oversight of reclamation efforts.
Greater Health Protections
The Legislature shall direct DNR to adopt rules related to air quality, mine reclamation, and radioactive waste liability at mines involving silica sand, cobalt, REE, iron, and lead.
Greater Collaboration between State and Local Governments
The Legislature shall direct the staff director to develop with the Missouri Department of Conservation and political subdivisions model standards and criteria that local subdivisions can use for local mining ordinances. The staff director shall also create a library of all local ordinances and local permits for reference by other political subdivisions.
The Legislature shall require that complaints from concerned citizens regarding mining operations be obtainable by the public pursuant to the Missouri Sunshine Law RSMo. 610.010-310.028 with personally identifiable information of the complainant redacted.
Populations Who Will Be Impacted by Mining
If we do not have protective policies in place to address the concerns mentioned above, it will create health disparities for Missourians in multiple parts of the state. Mining workers will endure the brunt of the health impacts, impacts felt in both the short and long term. Residents immediately surrounding mines and those downwind and downstream will also feel the impacts due to degradation of air quality, water quality, and surrounding natural areas. In particular, mining of some of the minerals discussed above generates radioactive waste, waste that causes health concerns plaguing the surrounding communities for decades. We see this today with the impacts of the 1940s Manhattan Project in St. Louis, where adults who lived and played near Coldwater Creek decades ago as well as residents living near there today have endured disproportionate rates of rare cancers, autoimmune diseases, birth defects, and other serious health ailments.14 St. Louis is still dealing with the cleanup of this radioactive material and Missouri decision makers must ensure we do not make similar mistakes by exposing residents to these harmful substances. Missouri’s children near mine sites could be at increased risk for health concerns. Research indicates that there is a strong association between the dust found in homes near mining-impacted Superfund sites and increased health concerns for children’s neurodevelopment.15 Children are more likely to spend time outdoors and be exposed to toxic contaminants within the air, water, and ground. Adults who lived near Coldwater Creek as children can attest to this and the impacts they’ve endured as a result of the improper management of radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project. Studies also show populations farther away from mining operations and mining waste sites can still be exposed to toxic contaminants if they are exposed to other uses of mining waste such as in driveways.16
Lastly, Missouri tourists can be impacted by the short term and long term harms from mining as the contaminants enter into our natural areas – harming wildlife, degrading forestland, and contaminating rivers and streams. This contamination of our state’s natural areas poses two significant threats to Missouri. First, the serious health risks for those who visit natural areas adjacent to and downstream from mining operations. Second, the economic impact to Missouri through loss of tourism if our state parks, conservation areas, and popular waterways become contaminated with cancer-causing and neurologically-damaging toxins. Without significant protections in place, increased mining can have significant impacts on Missourians both near and far from the mines. The responsibility to ensure safety of all Missourians relies on the local and state governments. As a result, the Legislature, DNR, and local elected officials must act to protect Missourians living now and in the future.
Recommendations for Corporations
We also urge mining companies, renewable energy infrastructure companies, and electronic manufacturing companies to invest in research and development of alternatives to the minerals that have significant health and environmental risks. Corporations have the power and resources to invest in new products that minimize greenhouse gas emissions throughout the products’ life cycles, including the greenhouse gas contributions of the minerals put into those products.
Recommendations for Individual Missourians
Lastly, it is important to note the role that individual Missourians can play in minimizing the harms from mining. A variety of metals are used in the manufacture of electronics such as cobalt, lithium, copper, nickel, tin, silver, gold, and aluminum. The greatest way to reduce the harm of mining is to avoid mining in the first place. While we need mining in order to create renewable energy infrastructure and electronic devices we use every day, MCE urges citizens to utilize existing electronics as long as they are functional. Missourians can also help reduce the demand for more minerals by investing in electronics that are known to last several years as well as purchasing refurbished electronics. When electronics are no longer functional, we urge Missourians to dispose of them at electronic recycling facilities. Implementing energy efficiency practices and being mindful of energy use in homes, workplaces, and places of worship will also reduce the demand for new minerals.
- The Energy Act of 2020 defines a “critical mineral” as a non-fuel mineral or mineral material essential to the economic or national security of the U.S. and which has a supply chain vulnerable to disruption. U.S. Geological Survey Releases 2022 List of Critical Minerals, U.S. Geological Survey, January 22, 2022, https://www.usgs.gov/news/national-news-release/us-geological-survey-releases-2022-list-critical-minerals.
- Hisan Farjana et al., Life cycle assessment of cobalt extraction process, 18, J. of Sustainable Mining 150, 150 (2019), https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2300396018301836#.
- See Id. at 155.
- Yttrium (Y) – Chemical properties, Health and Environmental effects, LennTech, https://www.lenntech.com/periodic/elements/y.htm#ixzz7mFPEJVgT (last visited December 8, 2022).
- Health Effects of Particulate Matter and Silica Exposure, UW-Eau Claire, https://www.uwec.edu/academics/college-arts-sciences/departments-programs/watershed-institute/explore-opportunities/sand-mining-research/impact-silica/health-effects/# (last visited December 8, 2022).
- Ashutosh Mishra, Impact of silica mining on environment, 8 J. Geography & Regional Plan., 150, 155-156, (2015), https://academicjournals.org/journal/JGRP/article-full-text-pdf/915EC0C53587.
- Anna Lin-Schweitzer, Integrated effort needed to mitigate fracking while protecting both humans and the environment (2022), https://ysph.yale.edu/news-article/integrated-effort-needed-to-mitigate-fracking-while-protecting-both-humans-and-the-environment/#.
- See Green Remediation Best Management Practices: Mining Sites, U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste & Emergency Response, 2012, https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2015-04/documents/gr_factsheet_miningsites.pdf.
- “Staff director” is “the staff director of the Missouri Mining Commission or his or her designee” pursuant to RSMo. 444.765, which is currently the director of the Land Reclamation Program.
- Coldwater Creek & FUSRAP Sites, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, https://moenvironment.org/blog/coldwater-creek-fusrap-sites/ (2018).
- Zota et al., Metal sources and exposures in the homes of young children living near a mining-impacted Superfund site, 21 J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 495, 495 (2011), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3161168/pdf/nihms301796.pdf.