Experts from Virginia Tech Tapped to Explore Impact of Gold Mining in Virginia, USA

Professionals from the globally-renowned Virginia Tech headed by William Hopkins and Robert Bodnar were gathered together recently by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine or NASEM to provide a concise and detailed report on the potential impacts of gold mining in Virginia, USA.

Gold Mining in Virginia

Together with other technical professionals, the two experts in this field were expected to give their thorough and professional opinion on the subject matter as attention to gold mining at both the new and historical sites in Virginia is starting to pick up. 

The sudden increase in interest in the gold mines in Virginia prompted lawmakers to pass House Bill 2213 to the Virginia General Assembly, directing the secretary of natural resources, secretary of health and human resources, and the secretary of commerce and trade to put up a team of experts and professionals to study gold mining. 

To create a fair committee and to provide credible reports, NASEM sought out people from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. Each member was nominated and selected through a strict process that included an evaluation of any conflicts of interest and a public comment period.

The team of experts, over the course of more than a year, gathered and interpreted information from various sources. This included presentations and discussions with representatives from the mining sector, academia, community, and both state and federal government. Moreover, stakeholders were also heard during town hall meetings and mining site visits in Virginia and South Carolina.

The committee to evaluate whether Virginia has appropriate for gold mining

Hopkins, who is the committee chair, said, “Our task as a committee was to evaluate if Virginia has the appropriate regulatory structure to safely start gold mining again.”

Hopkins is also a professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and at the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

Aside from Hopkins and Bodnar, the committee has other experts and professionals coming from the mining industry, state government, US Geological Survey, and faculties from the University of California Berkeley, Missouri University of Science and Technology, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, Colorado School of Mines, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Michigan Technological University.

Hopkins has been part of similar initiatives in the past. One of the committees that he had served in earlier addressed concerns related to freshwater resources, mining, management of waste from fossil fuel combustion, and research data quality in federal agencies. He also helps state and federal agencies, industry, and other stakeholders related to the environment and its impact.

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In a report, Hopkins said that the regulations and oversight should be the foundation of state efforts to lessen the impact of gold mining if it were to resume in the state of Virginia.

“But as Virginia’s laws and regulations currently stand, they are not up to the task of minimizing the risks to Virginia’s communities and the environment by ensuring that industry adheres to modern engineering standards and best practices. Our report points to opportunities to strengthen these systems to minimize the risk of harming water resources, ecosystems, and human health.” 

Bodnar, on the other hand, is in charge of providing a detailed description of the geological and geochemical characteristics of the gold deposit found in Virginia, and then extrapolating these data points to identify deposits found in other parts of the world with the same features.

Bodnar is a C.C. Garvin Professor and distinguished university professor in the Department of Geosciences in the College of Science. His research includes the role of geofluids in different geologic processes, including the formation of mineral deposits and extraction of energy and mineral resources. He has more than 40 years of experience working on gold and metal deposits not only in Virginia but all over the world. Bodnar also leads a multidisciplinary and multiyear study examining uranium deposits and the environmental impact of mining in the Piedmont region of Virginia.

The detailed report, in coordination with other contributions provided by the committee, was necessary in estimating the potential impacts and effects of any gold mining that might happen in the state in the future.

“The most effective way to minimize potential impacts from gold mining is, to begin with, a cradle-to-grave approach that considers all aspects of exploration, development, mining, remediation, closure and long-term monitoring from the very earliest stages and, importantly, solicits and includes input from all stakeholders involved,” said Bodnar. 

The reports include many important points like the need for a broad, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach involving geoscientists, ecologists, regulators, mining engineers, health professionals, and others to properly evaluate the complete range of potential impact of gold mining on the environment and public health.

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