Uranium mining and its effects on the environment is a major concern today. Although uranium can be helpful, there are risks that have a negative impact on the health of humans, animals; as well as effects on air, soil and water. Uranium is a hard, dense, malleable, silver-white, radioactive metal which can be used as an abundant source of concentrated energy. Uranium is a naturally occurring element found in low levels within rock, soil, air and water.
It is the highest numbered element to be found naturally in significant quantities on earth and is always found combined with other elements. Uranium can also be found in plants because plants absorb the uranium that is found in soil. There are many sources and uses of uranium. During mining of uranium ore and its processing, some releases of uranium occur. Depleted uranium is useful because of its very high density. Depleted uranium is used in aircrafts, radiation shielding in medical radiation therapy and radiography equipment and containers used to transport radioactive materials.
Certain studies of depleted uranium aerosol exposure propose that uranium combustion product particles, which can be found in military ammunition, can be found and inhaled in the air, but will quickly settle out of the air, not affecting populations more than a few kilometers from target areas. Used uranium oxide fuel is insoluble in water, which is likely to release uranium when in contact with water, thus creating nuclear waste. These sources of uranium can be harmful to the environment as well as cause health problems to both humans as well as animals.
A person can be exposed to uranium by inhaling dust in the air or by ingesting contaminated water and food. The amount of uranium in the air is usually small; however, people who work in factories that process phosphate fertilizers, live near government facilities that made or tested nuclear weapons live or work near a nuclear power plant, or live or work at facilities that mine or process uranium ore, may have increased exposure to uranium. Most ingested uranium compounds, tend to pass quickly through the body during digestion whereas insoluble uranium compounds pose a more serious exposure hazard.
This can lead to long-term health effects, affecting the normal function of the kidney, brain, heart, liver and other systems within the body because uranium is not only a radioactive material, it is a toxic metal. This toxic metal can also hinder the body’s reproductive system. Chronic inhalation and ingestion of uranium can also lead to mutation of cells and cancer. Most scientific studies have found no link between uranium and birth defects, but some claim static associations between soldiers exposed to depleted uranium, and those who were not, concerning reproductive abnormalities.
One study showed that epidemiological evidence is consistent with an increased risk of birth defects in their offspring exposed to depleted uranium. Environmental groups and others have expressed concern about the health effects of depleted uranium, and there is some debate over the matter. Studies have also found that people exposed to depleted uranium inhalation for long periods of time, such as Gulf War veterans, had and increase in the rate of birth defects of their children.
It has also been reported that uranium has caused reproductive defects and other health problems in animals. Uranium has been shown to have toxic effects on the cells and genes of animal, which may lead to a reduction in the number of offspring in uranium exposed animals. It may also cause birth defects, such as skeletal malformations or a reduction in body fetal body weight. When being exposed to uranium for long periods of time, animals develop mutations within cells which can also lead to cancer.
Uranium in air exists as dust that falls into surface water, on plants or soils through settling or rainfall. Chronic inhalation of uranium may lead to lung cancer, acute leukopenia, while oral exposure has resulted in anemia, necrosis of the jaw, abscess of the brain as well as many other diseases. Uranium is found in soils in different concentrations that are usually very low, but is found to be higher in phosphate-rich soil. This might not be a problem because concentrations often do not exceed normal ranges for uncontaminated soil.
Plants absorb uranium from the soil through the roots. Studies have shown that root vegetables, such as radishes, contain a higher concentration of uranium, which can lead to potential problems within the body of consumed in large quantities, but certain types of bacteria can be distributed within the soil to lower the concentration of uranium. The greatest potential for human exposure to uranium is through drinking water, but water containing low amounts of uranium is usually safe to drink, but the chronic consumption of uranium in water can be hazardous to a person’s health.
Although uranium is found within water, it is unlike for uranium to accumulate in fish because uranium compounds usually dissolve in water. Uranium mining has positive and negative effects on the world today. Uranium can be used for many things that can benefit people today, but it can lead to hazardous effect consequences environmentally. Although it can be found naturally, other sources of uranium can result in negative health effects in humans and animals. Overall, uranium mining has a negative impact on the environment.