Published On: 11/24/2015

SME issues technical briefing on arsenic in the mining industry

Paper addresses mining industry safety and best practices

The Government and Public Affairs Committee (GPAC) of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration Inc. (SME) has issued its 15th technical briefing paper, “The Role of Arsenic in the Mining Industry.” This paper, along with the others developed by GPAC, is designed to be used as a fact-based educational tool for elected officials, the media and the general public.

“SME acknowledges the fact that naturally-occurring arsenic is a known carcinogen, but it is only the dose that makes it toxic,” said SME Executive Director David L. Kanagy. “The mining industry monitors and prevents the release of arsenic into the environment through a number of technologies to ensure protection for humans and the environment. This briefing presents information about safety and best practices utilized by the mining industry, and it is our intent to inform and encourage constructive dialogue among all stakeholders.”

SME statement of technical position on the safe management of arsenic in the mining industry:

  • Arsenic is a naturally-occurring element commonly found as an impurity in metal-bearing mineral ores.

  • Arsenic is widely distributed in rocks and soil, in natural waters, and in small amounts in most living things.

  • The direct application of arsenic in the form of pesticides, fungicides or wood preservatives has historically been a major source of arsenic in soils, as arsenic is strongly attracted to soil particles and sediments.

  • The natural release of arsenic from geologic materials has become a threat to drinking water supplies around the world.

  • The rate of arsenic release from sulfide minerals can be accelerated by mining activities, which expose the minerals to weathering processes during excavation. Also, arsenic can be mobilized by weathering of outdoor stored waste byproducts produced during the subsequent metal value recovery process.

  • It is, therefore, very important to establish a baseline of arsenic concentrations in the surrounding environment in order to distinguish between mining, mineral and metallurgical processing; human activities; and natural background levels.

  • The mining, mineral processing and metallurgical industries support, and strictly follow, state and federal regulations to ensure protection of the environment and the health of industry workers.

This paper, along with the other SME peer-reviewed technical briefing papers, can be viewed and downloaded from

The Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration Inc. (SME) is a professional society (nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation) whose more than 15,000 membership represents all professionals serving the minerals industry in more than 100 countries. SME members include engineers, geologists, metallurgists, educators, students and researchers. SME advances the worldwide mining and underground construction community through information exchange and professional development. SME's staff is located in Englewood, Colorado.

For more information contact John Hayden, Deputy Executive Director - Public Affairs and Government Relations, at (303) 948-4250 or