Copper and the Environment

Copper exist naturally in the sea, the land and in living organisms. Humans, animals and plants can not live without it without getting sick. But the relationships between copper, copper production and the environment can be complex. An overview of some key environmental attributes of copper and issues related to copper production is provided below.

Pros:

  • Recycling. Copper is one of the most recycled of all metals. Virtually all products made from copper can be recycled. Industry uses recycled copper (also known as secondary copper) as a major source of raw material. In some instances, recycled copper can be remelted and directly used without any further processing. In effect, copper can be considered as renewable since it can be recycled over and over again without losing any of its chemical or physical properties.
  • Energy Efficiency. Copper can improve the efficiency of energy production and distribution systems. Electricity conducted by copper encounters much less resistance compared with any other commonly used metal. This is the reason why copper is found in wires and cables, as well as in generators, motors, transformers, and renewable energy production systems. Household electrical appliances, electronic and telecommunications devices also contain significant quantities of copper.
  • Antimicrobial Properties. Due to copper’s antimicrobial properties, numerous applications of copper and copper alloy products are currently being explored in the healthcare and public sanitation fields to eliminate pathogens, reduce the spread of diseases and produce clean water.

Cons:

  • Water pollution. Water pollution from mine waste rock and tailings may need to be managed after mine closure. In particular, acid mine drainage is becoming a key issue in some areas. As new mining technologies are able to handle more rock and ore material, more solid and liquid waste is expected to be disposed of and treated properly.
  • Emissions. Atmospheric emissions of sulphur dioxide and heavy metals on fine particles may occur in the smelting and refining processes. While there have been significant improvements in copper mining, smelting and refining procedures and practices in recent years, reducing the environmental impacts of copper production remains an important issue for the industry.

Nussir wish to use a sea-deposit for their tailings, effectively removing the problem of acid mine drainage. Also the minerals surrounding the copper bearing minerals contains little or no Sulphides (such as pyrite) making the tailings much less toxic for the environment.

Copper is among a select few materials that do not degrade or lose their chemical or physical properties in a recycling process. This means that the existing copper reservoir in use can well be considered a part of the world's copper reserves. In the recent decades, an increasing emphasis has been placed on the sustainability of material uses in which the concept of reuse and recycling of metals plays an important role in the material choice and acceptance of products. If appropriately managed, recycling has the potential to extend the use of resources, and to minimize energy use, some emissions, and waste disposal. Closing metal loops through increased reuse and recycling enhances the overall resource productivity and therefore represents one of the key elements of society’s transition towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns. It is widely recognized that recycling is not in opposition to primary metal production, but is a necessary and beneficial complement.

In 2005, 34% of copper consumption came from recycled copper. Some countries’ copper requirements greatly depend on recycled copper to meet internal demands. However, recycled copper alone cannot meet an expanding society’s needs, so we also rely on copper produced from the processing of mineral ores.

Copper and Health

Copper also occurs naturally in humans, animals and plants. Organic life forms have evolved in an environment containing copper. As a nutrient and essential element, copper is vital to maintaining health. The lack of copper can lead to a very rare condition called copper deficiency. Life sustaining functions depend on copper.

  • Copper is essential to plant, animal and human health. Deficiencies, as well as excesses, can be detrimental to health.
  • In 1996, a World Health Organization associated agency, the International Program on Chemical Safety, concluded that “there is greater risk of health effects from deficiency of copper intake than from excess copper intake.”
  • Copper is important in: the maintenance of the immune function and bone strength; the development of red and white blood cells; cholesterol and glucose metabolism; homeostasis; protection against oxidative and inflammatory damage; maintaining a healthy heart; transport and adsorption of iron; and brain development.
  • Certain enzymes that are critical to the function of our body depend on copper.
  • Copper deficiency can cause problems. In children, copper deficiency can result in physical, metabolic and developmental problems.
  • Population groups particularly at risk of having a copper deficiency are those with poor diets.
  • People with rare genetic disorders such as Menke’s Disease (where the body has difficulty absorbing copper it needs), Wilson’s Disease (where the body has difficulty getting rid of copper it does not need) and Idiopathic Copper Toxicosis (similar to the effects of Wilson’s Disease) are susceptible to copper deficiencies or excesses.
  • In areas that benefit from copper tubing as a means to transport water, copper may be introduced in safe and minuscule amounts into the water. This amount of copper can contribute to meeting dietary requirements.
  • Copper can kill or inhibit health threatening fungi, bacteria, and viruses, including water-borne organisms.

 

 

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