Environmental issues associated with mineral extraction are becoming increasingly more important as mining operations are developed near population centers, fragile ecosystems and land that is culturally and economically important to indigenous communities. The University of Arizona Center for Environmentally Sustainable Mining (CESM) represents the environmental pillar of the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources. CESM addresses issues associated with the environmental sustainability of mining as well as the management of legacy sites that are frequently a source of contamination to neighboring communities and ecosystems. Environmental issues addressed by CESM include topics related to impacts of active mine operations and legacy mine waste on air, water and soil quality as well as on the biodiversity of neighboring ecosystems.
Research associated with active mine operations includes the development of new strategies to improve revegetation, ecosystem regeneration and erosion control of mine tailings and waste rock during mine closure, dust characterization and suppression during active operations, and water use efficiency and control of groundwater contamination (nitrate and sulfate) during active operations and following mine closure. Research on legacy sites focuses on characterization of the fate and speciation of contaminant metal(loids). Extensive work is also being done to advance phytostabilization technologies in which plants are used on legacy mine sites for in situ metal(loid) containment to protect the health of neighboring communities and ecosystems. In addition, short- and long-term health risks associated with contaminated water and air in population centers near legacy mine sites are evaluated. Seed funding available through CESM facilitates the development of new research initiatives by UA faculty focused on mining sustainability.
CESM also includes education initiatives using community engagement programs focused on evaluating exposure risks in population centers adjacent to active mining operations or legacy mine sites. The CESM education strategy employs citizen science and community teach-ins to address community concerns and facilitate community response to environmental issues associated with active mining operations or legacy sites. In addition, CESM supports undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students to provide a comprehensive Environmental Science curriculum that includes extensive interaction with stakeholders from the mining and consulting industries to train the next generation of Environmental managers, key to sustainable mineral resource development.