Gems and the Environment

Interested in learning more about the environmental impact of the gem stones.  Mining for gems has a huge environmental impact and the impact can vary depending on the type of mine and stone.  For instance,  Nina Shen Rastogi points out:

Big mines  disturb wide swathes of land and sometimes affect biodiversity in drastic ways. They may use a lot of water for processing the gems, and the huge amounts of waste rock they produce can contribute to acid rock drainage. (The average diamond in an engagement ring requires the removal of 200 million to 400 million times its volume in rock.) Meanwhile, the machines used to dig diamonds out of kimberlite ore can have hefty carbon footprints.

Small-scale mines, on the other hand, have the potential to be relatively low-impact, since the process is so much simpler. But when they’re poorly run, these small mines can cause great damage, particularly if they’re located in ecologically sensitive areas. Washing gems in nearby rivers or streams can pollute those waterways with silt and sediment, altering aquatic habitats. When laborers flock to a site where gems have been found, forests are often cleared to create more digging sites. Trees also come down for the sake of cooking fires, and hunting can decimate local wildlife populations. Improper use of machinery can lead to oil spills and excess greenhouse-gas emissions.

To learn more about the impact of gems and the environment you might consider visiting UVM’s Dr. Saleem H. Ali’s website Gems and the Environment.  The website invites you to think about how the ancient practice of artisinal mining interacts with complex ecological and social webs in some of the places where the earth produces amazing pockets of rubies, sapphires and emeralds.