Limestone is one of those materials that are ubiquitous in modern life, but most people don’t realize it. It plays a role in creating many of the products we use every day, as well as the very homes where we live, but did you know that limestone use is detrimental to the environment?
When we use limestone, the environment suffers not because of the limestone itself but because of the process of getting that limestone. Let’s take a deeper dive into the limestone around us and why limestone mining is problematic.
Before we get into the specifics of limestone mining, let’s talk about why limestone is mined and how it is used. Limestone is a natural type of rock that has formed within the Earth, and it’s used for many purposes:
That last item on the list, neoprene production, is particularly ironic. Traditional neoprene is created using petroleum, so limestone neoprene is sometimes touted as the “eco-friendly” alternative. It may not be as damaging as petroleum, but limestone isn’t exactly eco-friendly either.
Limestone mining isn’t discussed as often as, say, fracking or oil drilling, but it has its fair share of risks and problems. Let’s look at six top limestone mining issues.
Limestone is mined underground, but vital groundwater is located underground too. When there is a limestone mine near a groundwater source, the mining can increase the sediment within the water supply.
On top of the sediment, limestone mines have been known to accidentally spill oil and gas from their mining equipment. Oil travels through limestone particularly quickly, so it’s easy for spilled oil and gas to make their way into groundwater.
In addition to contaminating groundwater, limestone mining can make groundwater more difficult to access. In the process of breaking down limestone, a mine can remove an entire underground zone that is vital for containing groundwater. As a result, the flow of that groundwater changes so it’s no longer accessible through existing wells.
One of the most impactful problems with limestone mining is the energy it requires. All the heavy machinery involved in a limestone mine requires energy, and that energy generally comes from fossil fuels.
This means that limestone mines are burning large amounts of fossil fuel, creating heavy amounts of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. At the same time, the mines are contributing to fossil fuel depletion because of the amount of fuel they need.
Remember that limestone is part of the ground beneath our feet – even though it’s often far beneath our feet. Extracting that limestone removes part of the structure of the earth. This can cause underground caves to develop, especially in humid climates, which can lead to sinkholes.
Sinkholes are obvious risks to people. In addition, though, they can impact the ecology of an area and cause an unexpected domino effect throughout the food chain.
Biodiversity is one of the most vital qualities of our planet. The right combination of animal and plant species is critical for keeping ecosystems balanced. Unfortunately, limestone mining can put biodiversity at risk.
A limestone quarry can destroy or disrupt underground caves that are home to numerous species of life. In some cases, a species may only be able to survive in a particular cave, so a single limestone mine can wipe out an entire species.
If you’ve ever been to a quarry or been anywhere near a quarry, you know that they produce extreme amounts of dust. The dust comes from extracting the limestone as well as crushing and screening the limestone. As the miners transport the limestone, dust can also escape into the environment along the travel path.
This dust is more than an inconvenience. It can cause irritation and health risks. Prolonged exposure to the dust can even cause cancer – the Globally Harmonized System, which assesses substances’ cancer risks, has identified limestone as a carcinogen.
With all the ways limestone can impact the environment, how much of a problem is it actually causing? It isn’t a problem that can necessarily be quantified, but some of the problems that limestone mining contributes to are known to be top contributors to ecological harm. For example, water pollution, land disruption, climate change, and loss of biodiversity are prominent causes of concern globally.
Learning about the dangers of limestone mining is the first step, but how can we take the next step: making changes to reduce the harm? Because limestone is used for so many products, the goal is to start using limestone-free alternatives as often as possible.
For example, instead of using limestone neoprene, choose products made from a plant-based neoprene alternative called Yulex. It’s made sustainably using renewable resources so you can get all the neoprene products you want while doing your part to protect the planet.
Want to learn more? Explore Yulex products to find out about this eco-friendly alternative.