The Impact of Quarrying

Quarrying is necessary to provide much of the materials used in traditional hard flooring, such as granite, limestone, marble, sandstone, slate and even just clay to make ceramic tiles. However, like many other man-made activities, quarrying causes a significant impact on the environment. In particular, it is often necessary to blast rocks with explosives in order to extract material for processing but this method of extraction gives rise to including noise pollution, air pollution, damage to biodiversity and habitat destruction.

Air Pollution

Dust from quarry sites is a major source of air pollution, although the severity will depend on factors like the local microclimate conditions, the concentration of dust particles in the ambient air, the size of the dust particles and their chemistry, for example limestone quarries produce highly alkaline (and reactive) dusts, whereas coal mines produce acidic dust.

The air pollution is not only a nuisance (in terms of deposition on surfaces) and possible effects on health, in particular for those with respiratory problems but dust can also have physical effects on the surrounding plants, such as blocking and damaging their internal structures and abrasion of leaves and cuticles, as well as chemical effects which may affect long-term survival.

Noise Pollution

Unfortunately, quarrying involves several activities that generate significant amounts of noise. It starts with the preparatory activities, such as establishing road or rail access, compound and even mineral processing facilities. Next is the process of exposing the mineral to be extracted and this is usually done by removing the top soil and other soft layers using a scraper, or hydraulic excavators and dump trucks. The excavation of the mineral itself will involve considerable noise, particularly is blasting methods are used. Following this, the use of powered machinery to transport the materials as well as possibly processing plants to crush and grade the minerals, all contribute even more noise to the environment.

Damage to Biodiversity

One of the biggest negative impacts of quarrying on the environment is the damage to biodiversity. Biodiversity essentially refers to the range of living species, including fish, insects, invertebrates, reptiles, birds, mammals, plants, fungi and even micro-organisms. Biodiversity conservation is important as all species are interlinked, even if this is not immediately visible or even known, and our survival depends on this fine balance that exists within nature.

Quarrying carries the potential of destroying habitats and the species they support. Even if the habitats are not directly removed by excavation, they can be indirectly affected and damaged by environmental impacts – such as changes to ground water or surface water that causes some habitats to dry out or others to become flooded. Even noise pollution can have a significant impact on some species and affect their successful reproduction. Nevertheless, with careful planning and management, it is possible to minimise the effect on biodiversity and in fact, quarries can also provide a good opportunity to create new habitats or to restore existing ones.

Quarry Waste

Again, like many other man-made activities, quarrying involves the production of significant amounts of waste. Some types of quarries do not produce large amounts of permanent waste, such as sand and gravel quarries, whereas others will produce significant amounts of waste material such as clay and silt. The good news is that they are generally inert and non-hazardous, unlike the waste from many other processes. However, there is still potential for damage to the environment, particularly with water contamination.

For example, suspended particles – even though they are chemically inert – may imbalance freshwater ecosystems. Large amounts of solids can also exacerbate flooding, if it is dumped on the flood plains. Lastly, the accumulation of waste by-products will still need to be stored and managed somewhere that will not affect the environment in an adverse manner. Furthermore, the treatment and disposal of the waste may produce more negative impacts on the environment.

While quarries can cause significant impact to the environment, with the right planning and management, many of the negative effects can be minimised or controlled and in many cases, there is great opportunity to protect and enhance the environment, such as with the translocation of existing habitats or the creation of new ones.