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Environmental Impact
of Bauxite Mining


ID : 1203864


To put it simply, Bauxite is the primary ore of aluminum. Almost all aluminum are
extracted from Bauxite. It is a rock formed from the laterite soil which had been severely leached
of silica and other soluble materials in wet tropical climate. Bauxite is a soft material with
colours ranging from white to gray to reddish brown material with pisolitic structure, earthy
luster and a relatively low specific gravity. These properties makes it easy to identify bauxite.

Figure 1: Shows the Bauxite Mineral with characteristic red iron staining and pisolitic mineral


Contrary to popular beliefs, Bauxite is not a mineral, but only a rock which contains
various minerals. It does not have a specific composition and may vary from place to place. It is
a mixture of mostly aluminum hydroxide and aluminum oxide and small amounts of silica, clay
minerals, iron oxide, small traces of insoluble materials such as quartz, hematite, magnetite,
siderite and goethite. The aluminum minerals found in Bauxite includes : Gibbsite Al(OH)3 ,
Boehmite AlO(OH) and diaspore, AlO(OH).


Bauxite is the main ore to use in aluminum extraction. The first step in producing
aluminum is to crush the bauxite and purify it using Bayer process. In the Bayer Process, the
bauxite is washed in a hot solution of sodium hydroxide which leaches aluminum from the
bauxite. The aluminum is then precipitated out of solution in the form of aluminum hydroxide,

Al(OH)3. The aluminum hydroxide is then calcined to form alumina, Al2O3. Then the aluminum
is smelted from the alumina using the Hall-Heroult Process. In the Hall-Heroult Process, the
alumina is dissolved in a molten bath of cryolite (Na3AlF6). Now, the molten aluminum is
extracted from the solution by electrolysis. This process consumes an enormous amount of
electricity. Aluminum is usually produced where electricity costs are very low.
The various minerals found in Bauxite proved to be very useful in various applications.
Calcined alumina is a synthetic Corundum which is a very hard material. It has a scale of 9 on
the Mohs Hardness Scale which is very close to diamond. Calcined alumina is crushed, separated
by size, and used as abrasive in various applications such as aluminum oxide sandpaper,
polishing powders and polishing suspensions are made from calcined alumina.
Besides the Calcined alumina, sintered bauxite is often used in various industry as a sandblasting abrasive as it proved to be low cost and very effective. It is produced by crushing
bauxite minerals into a small powder forms and then fusing it into spherical beads at a very high
temperature. These beads have good hardness quality and proved to be very durable. The beads
are then sorted by their size for applications in different types of sandblasting equipment and for
different sandblasting applications. Besides that, their round shape reduces wear on the delivery
equipment as it exerts lower pressure on the equipment.
Sintered bauxite is commonly used and possibly the favourite of the oil and gas industry
as an oil field proppant. In off-shore oil field drilling applications, the reservoir rock is often
fractured by pumping fluids into the oil well under extremely high pressures. The pressure builds
up to a dangerously high levels and that causes the reservoir rocks to fracture. When fracturing
occurs, water and suspended particles known as "proppants" rush into the fractures and push
them open. When the pumps are turned off, the fractures close, trapping the proppant particles in
the reservoir. If an adequate number of crush-resistant particles remain in the reservoir, the
fractures will be "propped" open, allowing for a flow of oil or natural gas out of the rocks and
into the well. This process is known as hydraulic fracturing. Powdered bauxite can be used to
fused into tiny beads at very high temperatures. These beads have a very high crush resistance,
and that makes them suitable as a proppant. They can be produced in almost any size and in a
range of specific gravity. The specific gravity of the beads and their size can be matched to the
viscosity of the hydraulic fracturing fluid and to the size of fractures that are expected to develop
in the rock. Manufactured proppants provide a wide selection of grain size and specific gravity
compared to a natural proppant known as frac sand.

Current situation revolving bauxite

Malaysia is recently registered in the global markets as a major source of bauxite. This
started suddenly in January 2014 when Indonesia in attempt to boost its own aluminum smelting
industry, banned all exports of bauxite ore. This caused China to lost one of its major supplier
which is Indonesia. Mining companies then turned to the hills south of Kuantan where plenty of
lower quality bauxite was available for mining.
Bauxite mining in Kuantan offers some exciting economic opportunities for various
parties including individual land owners. Nevertheless, the bauxite boom; the extensive and
uncontrolled mining activities have great potentials to cause adverse impacts on the environment,
health and quality of life of the people living in the affected areas. Bauxite mining is not a new
economic activity for Malaysia. The mining of bauxite has taken place in the state of Johor since
early 2000. Whilst bauxite mining operation in Teluk Ramunia Johor has been operating for
more than 15 years without much controversy, bauxite mining in Kuantan has created a different
scenario within a short period of time. Extensive and aggressive mining which include
transporting and stockpiling of bauxite in huge quantities cause environmental problems to
emerge within a short period of time leading to community outrage.
Much of the land in Pahang province has been redistributed to settlers by the government
so they could cultivate it with rubber, palm oil or fruit orchards. So all the companies had to do
was approach smallholders whose properties contained bauxite, and offer them substantial sums
of money to allow their land to be mined. Most of the plots were quite small, allowing the
companies to exploit a loophole in Malaysian law, which only requires an environmental impact
assessment for plots larger than 250 hectares.
As a result, the little country roads winding through the hills were suddenly clogged with
huge lorries carrying bauxite ores to the port in Kuantan. The rivers ran red with bauxite
sediment, staining the sea as they flowed out. Most of the mines did not even had a legal license
to mine. In total, there were 44 companies with export licences, and they were all rushing to get
as much as they could get from anybody who was willing to sell their raw bauxite ore in order to
export it to China and earn a huge profit.


Soil Erosion
First phase of Bauxite exploitation is the preliminary exploration and ESIA desk study. There are
a lot of noise and human presence which disrupts the natural habitat of the animals. Besides that,
the habitat of the animals are destructed causing them to be homeless. Then there is also the

problem of limited increase of erosion and turbidity of the soil and the roads of around the
mining site. Besides that, there is also the disturbance of hydrology. Lastly there is pollution,
which leads to eutrophication of streams.

Figure 2 showing the soil erosion at mining site.

Threat to Biodiversity
The habitats of the animals in the forest that are destroyed would extinct and that would pose as a
threat to biodiversity of the region where mining of bauxite is undergoing. Besides, there is also
problem of turbidity on the soil which would have irreversible effects on the biodiversity of the
ecosystem. Disturbance of hydrology by the spongy bauxite cap pose a threat to the aquatic
biodiversity of the Kuantan region too as a lot of fish will die.

Figure 3 shows the increased of turbidity due to the bauxite mining.

Air Pollution and Acid Rain
Dust is a primarily environmental problem caused by Bauxite mining. Dust absolutely covers
very large surrounding areas that affect the habitats, including residential and agricultural
neighborhoods of the Bauxite exploitation site. The "red" dust waste from the first process of
Bauxite definitely will cling to the income-producing plantations such as coffee, tea, rubber,
black pepper and remain on their leaves for a long period of time. This phenomenon is very
harmful to the growth of the agricultural products and reduces the productivity of these trees.
This dust consisting of toxic chemicals plus the natural emissions of radiation products as
radium, thorium, and beryllium- can in the long run become a cause of lung cancer for residents
in the surrounding areas as borne out by statistical data coming from coal mine areas in Western
Moreover, during the separation process, the vapor of sulfur dioxide is formed, and an acid rain
is generated due to the chemical blend of sulfurous air and water. This acid rain is the most
serious harm to adjacent farms.
Water Pollution
Digging a bauxite site would tremendously damage huge depths of the topsoil level that can
never be replenished as in the condition before digging. Besides, it requires an estimated area
equivalent to the bauxite site to dump the red sludge.
According to historical data or bauxite exploitation data taken from different advanced countries,
the ratio 4/2/1 means that in order for 4 tons of ore to produce 2 tons of alumina, or 1 ton of pure
aluminum, 4 tons of red sludge are the result.
When the toxic red sludge is dumped on the ground, its toxic chemicals will be percolated to the
underground water table along with rainwater, which would then contaminate the main water
source of the highlands region.
In sum, this hazardous waste is seriously harmful to a population of 30 million and causes
agricultural damage to the highland farms.

Fishery Pollution
The fishing industry will also be damaged due to the poisonous chemicals from the red sludge as

fish can subsequently be vanishing or even become extinct. According to researches carried out
by American and Italian scientists, red sludge can cause the genetic distortion of fish in the
ocean. The health and lives of the people living southeast of Saigon and its fish consumers can
be greatly affected as well.
Toxicity Affecting Human Lives
The red sludge puts health and human lives at risk of being lost or harmed due to air, water and
fish pollution. The medical statistics prove that prolonged toxicity may cause encephalopathy,
osteoporosis, anemia, and possibly Parkinson diseases. An Australian researcher in Australia
where bauxite mining is largely developed proved that red sludge causes lung cancer and uterus
deformation in rat experiments. The common symptoms of toxicity on humans are dizziness,
vertigo, nausea, fainting, or comatose if breathing or taking in a large dosage.
According to OSHA, the sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is the primary waste in red sludge and it is
harmful to human beings after prolonged contact, say 15 years. Direct contact may cause skin
irritation, or inflammation of the respiratory system such as blistering of the throat, mouth or
The Economic Effectiveness
The Economic effectiveness of bauxite mining depends on the density of aluminum. In general, 4
tons of bauxite yield an average of 2 tons of aluminum oxide and generate 4 tons of red mud in
order to produce 1 ton of pure (~99.6%) aluminum.
In order to produce 1.2 million tons of pure aluminum per annum, which is the ultimate goal as
spelled out by Vietnam, we can do a simple math and arrive at how large a surface is needed
annually for a dumping ground of red mud!
For comparison, 1 hectare of rubber tree plantation yields 1.5 tons of rubber which is equivalent
of US$4,500.00 as 2008 market price. Moreover, the land can be subsequently harvested for the
next 20 years.
In contrast, one ton of alumina costs only US $270.00 (2008 market price). In order to have the
same yield of rubber plantation, it needs to dig 35 tons of bauxite ore. However, the land after
exploitation cannot be reused but also generating 40 tons of toxic waste of red sludge and
polluted dust.
More specifically, the research inside Vietnam by Nguyen Dong Hai, Ph.D, Nguyen Thanh Son,
Ph.D, and Nguyen Ngoc was reported on the VietnamNet web site, shows that the total annual
income from Bauxite mining is only 1,450 billion Dong (Vietnamese piasters) versus 2,200

billion for rubber trees and 5,800 billion for coffee trees harvesting for the same amount of land
used to produce aluminum in the Highland of Dak Nong,
Hence, the ability to repay the debt for tree investment is 5 times faster than bauxite investment.
According to their calculation, it costs 3,000 billion Dong Vietnam for 4,000 hectares (equivalent
to 8,800 acres) of bauxite. However, the same amount of money can be used to invest in 35,000
hectares of rubber trees or 58,000 hectares of coffee trees.
In plus, bauxite exploitation is not tax advantages. It brings in about 30 billion Dong VN versus
701 billion Dong VN for rubber trees and 2,175 billion Dong VN for coffee trees.
In socio-economic standpoint, bauxite mining does not create more jobs to the area because the
Chinese labor force and heavy duty digging equipments are utilized.
It requires only 5 thousand laborers for the Dak Nong site (equivalent to 1.25 labors/hectare) as
compared to 170,000 laborers for rubber plantation and 590,000 laborers for coffee plantation.
The Social and Cultural Effects on the Ethnic Minorities
There are numerous ethnic groups (about 15) in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and they are
very sensitive to the invasion of the Vietnamese (called "Kinh," people from the Capital). Their
habitats and lands are getting smaller and smaller due to the encroachments of Vietnamese
migration into the area and the infusion of minorities coming from the North, deliberately
fostered by the government, which have brought a huge population increase, from an original 1.4
million to an estimated 4 million.
Of the original (native) 1.4 million, about 90% are ethnic highlanders. Now, their estimated
number is down to around 400,000. This decrease of their population is due to their retreating
deeper into the forest lands to the West and/or to the neighboring countries of Laos and
According to plan, Vietnam is expected to develop 5 more locations in Dak Nong province
beside Nhan Co (area: 510 Km2) such as: Trung Duc (354 Km2), Dak Song (300 Km2), Gia
Nghia North (329 Km2), 1 Thang 5 (197 Km2), Quang Son (159 Km2). All planned areas of
bauxite exploitation would come to more than 1/3 of the surface of Dak Nong province.
Digging Bauxite in this area is a serious matter of concern to the people of Dak Nong because
with their agricultural land being invaded and further restricted starvation becomes a distinct
possibility. Migration (move to another area) and separation of families will become necessary

for survival, therefore, it will disturb its social structure and may damage family values due to
the Chinese occupation and cultural invasion.
Noise pollution
Noise is an important consideration in the context of mining, and a factor that can potentially
have serious health impacts across a wide range of determinants. Noise pollution usually occurs
in three phases: access to the bauxite mining area, extraction of bauxite using heavy machinery
and movement of lorries from mining area to stockpile places. Some of the mining activities are
located very close to and within community settlement which make environmental pollution a
real concern to the community. If the problem persists, environmental noise has a great impact
on the health of the people. The potential health effects identified include hearing loss or loss of
hearing sensitivity, sleep disturbance, cardiovascular and physiological effects, mental health and
behavioural effects, cognitive performance including poor performance by school children
Water pollution and risk of mud flood
Water pollution was widely reported by mainstream and social media. The sources of water
pollution are mainly related to extensive land clearing, extraction of bauxite leading to soil
erosion and sedimentation; washing of bauxite and effluent from the bauxite washing pond water
were discharged into Sungai Taweh which flows downstream causing severe pollution to Sungai
Riau. Generally, bauxite contains mainly Aluminum oxide (4050%), ferric oxide (20%) and 3
5% combined silica. However, according to Rajah, bauxite in Kuantan is characterised by high
ferric oxide content ranging from 14.4 to 40.6% depending on the area. Because of its
composition, aluminum and iron are the main contaminants that pollute the water resources but
depending on the geological characteristics of the land and surrounding land use activities, other
toxic metals such as arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead, nickel and manganese may also
contaminate drinking water resources when the natural ecosystem is aggressively removed and
Chronic exposure to toxic metals may cause multiple organ toxicity and increase cancer risk.
Whereas, high level exposure to aluminum in the stomach prevent the absorption of phosphate, a
chemical compound required for healthy bones and may cause bone diseases in children. Chronic
exposure to aluminum was hypothesized to cause Alzheimer disease but scientific evidence to
date is inconsistent. Based on a continuous drinking water monitoring conducted by the
Department of Pahang State Health, so far the concentration of aluminum in treated water taken
from the affected water treatment plants were below the Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake
(PWTI) of 0.9mg/l. The concentration of other heavy metals were also below the National

Drinking Water Quality Standard. Apparently the conventional treatment method used in these
water treatment plants is capable of managing the treat of heavy metals contaminations.
In Malaysia, the active bauxite mine is located in Gebeng, Pahang. However, the mine - while
strengthening the economy as well as serving as a lucrative source of income for many people is also causing intense suffering to the locals.
Bauxite mining has indeed caused pollution around Bukit Goh, Gebeng and the Kuantan Port.
For months, certain areas in the district - particularly Bukit Goh - have suffered serious air
pollution from bauxite dust and residue that were released by the processing plants or leaked
during transportation to the Kuantan Port.
This pollution has damaged the roads, the river and more recently, the bauxite residue has been
flowing out to the sea due to heavy rain showers . It was previously reported that local citizens
had been alarmed at the colour of the sea turning red.
Several fatal accidents were also caused by lorries transporting bauxite. These lorries caused
further traffic congestion as the drivers parked their lorries indiscriminately on the roads.
Additionally, the poorly regulated mining of bauxite could be just as severe, as the ecosystem
may never recover from this. Such irresponsible practices has caused adverse health effects to the
people who live near the mining sites, too. Natural bauxite ore consists of aluminum hydroxide,
iron oxide, titanium oxide and reactive silica - the substances of which affect human health.
Aluminum hydroxide is the main content of the bauxite ore, which is 32-52 percent. Excessive
exposure of aluminum hydroxide could be detrimental to health as pain and reddening of the
nose, coughing, pain and redness of the skin, along with peeling and itching eyes, are among the
significant effects of exposure to bauxite dust.
Studies have shown that these materials could lead to neurological problems such as chronic
brain syndrome, anxiety for no reason, forgetfulness, or Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease in
It is noted that the content of iron oxide in bauxite is 15-34 percent, less compared to aluminum
hydroxide. Iron oxide is the substance that causes the roads, river and sea to become reddish.
Long-term exposure of iron oxide to the respiratory system could lead to the accumulation of
iron in the liver tissue and affect the functioning of the liver system. The situation is thus
worsened for people with thalassemia and hemophilia or those suffering from swelling of the
liver and spleen.

Next, titanium oxide is the third content in bauxite. Exposure of this substance may give an
adverse effect to those who suffer from eczema skin, heart problems and liver problems.
Moreover, the content of reactive silica in bauxite is 1-8 percent. Exposure to high
concentrations can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, fainting or even death. Longer
periods of exposure cause the inflammation of the lungs. Then it will become worse and cause
problems such as chronic bronchitis or acute respiratory infections silicosis.
Bauxite mining has become a good source of income for many people - especially low-income
earners. However, a responsible action plan should be taken by the regulators to strictly enforce
safety and health regulations and ensure the consumers well-being. The bauxite mining industry
may become a good fortune for every person if and only if the mining operators and the transport
contractors responsibly manage the mining and transportation operations according to the rules
and regulations that have been set.


Public health surveillance system
Acknowledging the potential impacts on health, Pahang State Health Department has established
a surveillance system to monitor continuously food and drinking water quality and diseases in
the area of Kuantan. The surveillance system is known as Kuantan Environmental- Public Health
Tracking System (KEPTS). The elements of KEPTS include a continuous monitoring of air
pollution related diseases, road traffic injury, treated water quality and monitoring of raw food
and ready to eat food sold within the bauxite mining areas. In addition to that, a mental health
survey was also added into KEPTS. While the manual data collection has already taken place,
the KEPTS is in the process of developing automated data system that supports and enable
linking all data collected including environmental data from various authorities for the purpose
of future follow up and analysis.
The lesson has perhaps been learned. The federal government has ordered a halt to all mining
while it rethinks the regulation of the industry. Most of the plots of mining site were quite small,
allowing the companies to exploit a loophole in Malaysian law, which only requires an
environmental impact assessment for plots larger than 250 hectares. Seven people have been
detained on suspicion of corruption. But the damage to the environment and future health risks
remain unknown, and worrying.

There are various alternatives to bauxite mineral to produce alumina. These alternatives include
clay minerals, alunite, anorthosite, power plant ash, and oil shale. But, at a higher cost due to
more complex and different processes that is involved. Besides that, Silicon carbide can be used
to substitute bauxite abrasives in the industry applications.
Improving the efficiency of manufacturing processes
The World Resources Institute is conducting research on resource and materials
use. WRI has been working to develop databases and indicators that document the flow of
materials through industrial economies. Material flows analyses track the physical flows of
natural resources through extraction, production, fabrication, use and recycling, and final
disposal, accounting for losses along the way.The goal of the materials flow studies is to develop
new thinking, new metrics, and new management tools that will help bring about the transition to
more efficient and less environmentally-harmful patterns of material use in modern societies.

Acid rock drainage

Acid rock drainage (ARD) forms when sulphide minerals in waste rock and ore at a mine
site are exposed to air and water. ARD can pollute surface and groundwater with acidity and
dissolved metals, which can adversely affect aquatic organisms and water users downstream. A
number of strategies are used to predict, prevent, and mitigate ARD at mine sites.

Restoring environmental function at mine sites

Mining is a relatively temporary activity, and mine sites have finite operating lives which
are determined by the size and quality of the ore deposit being mined. Mine site reclamation and
closure activities aim to restore land disturbed by mining activities to an acceptable state for reuse by people or ecosystems

Uncontrolled bauxite mining operation in Kuantan has caused severe environmental
pollution. Destruction of ecosystem threatens our access to the most fundamental requisites for
human existence: safe water, clean air, safe food and shelter. The impact may persist if there is no
proper rehabilitation plan done to the exploited area. While mental distress due to unpleasant

living environment become apparent, more studies are needed to quantify the impact on chronic
physical illness. Even though chronic physical illness are not apparent now due to it slow
pathogenesis, the diseases may appear many years later if the current risk is not properly
addressed and controlled. All responsible agencies should focus on a wider aspect of health
determinants rather than waiting for the occurrence of diseases to before acting. It is important to
emphasize on sustainable mining practices in order to avoid compromising the health of people
in the future.

The figure summarizes the various impacts of bauxite mining