Factsheet on acid mine drainage, mining's most serious threat to water resources. A mine with acid drainage has the potential for long-term devastating impacts on rivers, streams and aquatic life.
Acid mine drainage is a concern at many metal mines, because metals such as gold, copper, silver and molybdenum, are often found in rock with sulfide minerals. When the sulfides in the rock are excavated and exposed to water and air during mining, they form sulfuric acid. This acidic water can dissolve other harmful metals in the surrounding rock. If uncontrolled, the acid mine drainage may runoff into streams or rivers or leach into groundwater. Acid mine drainage may be released from any part of the mine where sulfides are exposed to air and water, including waste rock piles, tailings, open pits, underground tunnels, and leach pads.