Gemstones play an important part in our lives. We use gems in medicine, space travel, weather forecasting, and engineering in industry. Without them we would not be able to drill into the Earth’s crust to extract oil, which has numerous uses in today’s world. However, the extraction of gemstones can cause a number of environmental problems.
During the mining process, large areas of vegetation are cleared to allow for the exploration of the area, the actual mining and the processing of the gemstones retrieved from the mine. As a result, the animals and plants in the area are wiped out.
The heavy digging and lifting machines used in the mining industry pump out carbon monoxide, hydrogen and oxides of nitrogen and sulphur. These can be harmful to humans and wildlife. The carbon monoxide is converted into carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This contributes to the greenhouse effect — global warming — which could devastate our planet if it is not controlled.
Usually, a lump of rock bigger than a house must be crushed and sorted to find one small gem. This waste must be disposed of safely so that it does not cause further damage to wildlife. The crushing of waste rock also produces a lot of dust, which can hang in the air, making breathing uncomfortable. Water drainage from mining processes carries acidic waste products into rivers, causing harm to the local ecosystem.
Many gems are rare. Even gems that are thought of as common, such as amethyst, are rare compared to most rocks in the Earth’s crust. To conserve these rare stones, scientists have found ways of creating artificial gemstones, mainly for use in industry.
To protect the environment from damage caused by gemstone mining, it must be managed properly. This means that governments and mining companies must stick to rules that encourage waste to be disposed of safely. They must also limit destruction of ecologically important areas, such as habitats that contain endangered species of plant or animal life.