TL;DR — Mining and industrial operations are known to contribute to air pollution around the globe, including greenhouse gas emissions that affect our climate and pollutants like fine particulate matter that have significant negative effects on health. However, continuous air quality monitoring that collects high-resolution, real-time data at various sites around mining and industrial facilities can help industrial operators determine the air pollution levels that are being produced and how they may be affecting surrounding communities, supporting their efforts to mitigate these impacts.

How mining and industrial activities impact air quality

Air quality monitoring equipment can be used for a variety of monitoring purposes, including monitoring the air pollution around industrial and mining operations for Environmental Health & Safety and compliance purposes. 

Mining is known to have significant negative impacts on air quality. 

Globally, metal mining is one of the biggest sources of air pollution.”

— Earthworks

The main air pollutant emissions from mining come in the form of methane emissions, which contribute to the warming of the climate, and particulate matter emissions, which are known to cause a slew of negative health impacts, including respiratory damage and premature death.

For more information, read our Air Quality Measurements series blog focusing on particulate matter here.

The image above shows a mining site in Indonesia. Mining can produce various air pollutants that negatively affect the environment and presents a huge source of global pollution. (Image source: Climate Visuals)

Industrial processes are also a significant contributor to air pollution emissions, particularly of organic compounds, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and other chemicals. Carbon monoxide has a known link to atmospheric warming.

Factories, such as oil refineries, can release a variety of pollutants into the air, including:

  • Toxic metals
  • Particulates
  • Harmful gases, such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, methane, carbon monoxide, and benzene, some of which also contribute to ozone formation and the greenhouse effect

Read our blog here to learn more about the links between air quality and climate change, as well as how air quality co-benefits can be leveraged to drive climate action.

Petroleum refineries are known to be a major source of the criteria pollutants that are monitored under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in the United States. A report from the Hazardous Substance Research Centers finds that some of these chemicals are either suspected or known to be cancer-causing agents and have been linked to developmental and reproductive problems.

To learn more about how the pollutants released by industrial and mining operations impact human health, read our blog here.

The importance of industrial air quality testing

It is important to monitor air quality around mining and industrial sites because of the severity of air pollution that they can create. It is crucial to understand these impacts to protect both employees and the surrounding communities from exposure as well as to support potential action to reduce these negative impacts.

Industrial air pollution refers to the toxic or harmful compounds that factories, refineries, and other operations can release into the air. Water and land pollution can also result from these activities.

In places that are rapidly industrializing, these activities can have an even greater negative impact on air quality and environmental health. Read our blog here to learn more about air quality and the need for expanded monitoring in economically developing nations.

Industrial air quality monitoring devices and the monitoring process

Air quality monitoring devices, like low-cost sensors, can be deployed around mining and industrial sites in order to evaluate the impact of these activities on the surrounding air quality.

Continuous air quality monitors are often installed around the perimeter of the industrial site to evaluate pollution levels and composition as well as to compare measurements against regulatory guidelines.

This is especially important because these sites can significantly impact surrounding communities and have major health and environmental impacts.

Anemometers are often paired with air quality monitors for this use case, as they measure wind speed and direction which can help determine how air pollution originating from a mine or industrial site is traveling towards other areas of concern as the degree to which the pollutants disperse.

To read more about the impacts of wind speed and direction on air pollution, read our air quality measurements series blog here

Learn more about our Clarity Wind Module here and how measuring wind provides important insight into air pollution movement, painting a more complete picture of air quality.

A case study: Kansanshi Mine

Kansanshi Mine, a subsidiary of First Quantum Minerals, is a mine in Zambia that acts as one of the top copper producers in all of Africa. Operators at Kansanshi Mine wanted to monitor air quality and evaluate the mine’s potential impacts on the air pollution levels of the surrounding community.

The mining operators deployed six low-cost sensors at different points around the mining site in order to collect continuous air quality measurements. The team combined their Node-S sensors with the add-on Wind Module to assist in source attribution and air quality modeling.

This high-accuracy air quality data monitoring allows Kansanshi Mine to understand the complete picture of air quality surrounding their operations and address potential community concerns about air pollution levels.

Elisha Mulilo, an Environmental Specialist at Kansanshi Mine, discusses how implementing low-cost sensors at their mining operations helped collect more representative data and provide a more comprehensive picture of air quality.

To learn more, read our case study with First Quantum Minerals here.

Air quality regulations around mining and industry

Countries around the globe have regulations surrounding maximum acceptable air pollution emissions from mining and industrial operations due to the collective knowledge of these emissions’ vast harm to human and environmental health.

Like with air quality from other pollution sources, the regulation of air pollution from mining and industrial activities is carried out in the U.S. by the EPA.

Various policies are in place to govern the environmental regulation of the mining process, such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act

The Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP) requires large greenhouse gas polluters to report on their emissions, and the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) regulates hazardous and toxic pollutants.

However, there have been calls from certain governmental bodies — such as by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) — for stricter, more comprehensive regulations on air pollution from mining to ensure that environmental health takes priority.

In regard to industrial operations, the U.S. framework of the Clean Air Act requires major stationary pollution sources like factories and refineries to report their air pollution levels and stay within regulatory guidelines. Under this act, the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) was established to monitor and regulate the criteria pollutants.

Most countries around the world have similar regulations that work to keep mining and industrial operation emissions within a certain level to prevent excessive damage to environmental health as well as to protect residents from air pollution exposure.

Creating cleaner air around mining and industrial operations

Monitoring the air quality around mining and industrial operations is highly important due to the level of air pollution that they can produce and the grave health and environmental impacts that this has.

By placing air quality monitors around these sites, we can fully understand their impacts on the surrounding air and take steps to mitigate their negative impacts.

Interested in measuring air quality for cleaner air and a healthier climate? Get in touch with our team to learn more about our Sensing-as-a-Service solution for mining and industrial operators, governments, businesses, and community organizations, using our Clarity Node-S monitors and modules — including our Wind Module, which measures wind speed and direction and helps to create a more complete, comprehensive picture of air quality.