Social and Psychological Dimensions of Mining Activities and Impacts on Quality of Life

Industry and government interest in Quebec mineral development, particularly in the region targeted by the Plan Nord, is leading public health actors to study development activities and their repercussions on health. To help the public health network better understand the health repercussions of mining activities, a review of the literature has been carried out. This review documents nuisance impacts on quality of life, as well as the psychological and social effects on individuals and communities living near mineral exploration and development sites. It also summarizes the impacts of fly-in/fly-out (FIFO) on the psychological health of mine workers, as well as identifying the social and psychological effects of the mine closure/rehabilitation phase.

Main findings of the literature review

Nuisance impacts on quality of life

  • Mineral exploration and development produce nuisance impacts, chief among them dust, noise, vibrations and increased traffic.
  • Road and infrastructure construction, ore hauling, blasting and drilling are the activities most likely to have irritating and disruptive effects on neighbouring communities.
  • Direct effects on well-being and lifestyle, and indirect effects on physical health, such as sleep disruption, stress and loss of tranquility, have been observed in a number of the case studies.

Social and psychological effects: generally negative despite some positive aspect

  • Communities are generally hopeful and enthusiastic about the potential for prosperity, stable jobs and the return of young people when mining projects are announced.
  • The arrival of the mining industry can spur employment and business activities. It can also lead to price hikes for goods and services.
  • The demographic growth produced by a mining project (the boomtown effect) is likely to ramp up demand for services and infrastructure, particularly in the area of housing. It can create conflicts between newcomers and long-time residents.
  • The presence of worker camps seems to also create a lot of pressure on certain services and infrastructure, even if this type of accommodations is a response to a housing shortage.
  • Using the FIFO workforce management model leads to long working hours, difficulties balancing work and home life and other factors that can impact workers’ psychological health. However, workers toiling in close quarters with one another for hours on end sometimes gives rise to a special sort of social support system that is beneficial to psychological health in the workplace.
  • A poor attitude on the part of the industry (when it is uncommunicative, rarely consults the population or seems indifferent to the changes in people’s lives), lifestyle changes, expropriation or relocation of buildings and increased nuisance can lead to negative psychological effects such as anxiety, distress and a sense of powerlessness.
  • Proper preparation on the part of the various stakeholders, particularly in response to demographic growth, can mitigate certain social and psychological effects. In addition, the specific characteristics of each host community, industry activities and site configuration systematically require an initial assessment of the community in order to document the actual effects.
Emmanuelle Bouchard-Bastien
M. Env., conseillère scientifique, Direction de la santé environnementale et de la toxicologie, Institut national de santé publique du Québec
Marie-Christine Gervais
M. Sc., conseillère scientifique, Institut national de santé publique du Québec
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