While diamond miners have begun to regulate themselves to avoid the worst of the negative impacts of the industry, their operations remain significantly harmful to the environment – chemically and physically identical minerals can be reliably synthesized today as alternatives.
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How does diamond mining impact the environment?
Recent studies have shown that the supply of diamonds from mines still causes significant environmental damage.
A 2019 report on diamond mining in Sierra Leone found that mines’ physical and chemical outputs were the source of serious harm to the local environment. This pollution has made farmland unfit to produce crops, damaged groundwater wells, dried up water sources, and cracked the walls in houses.
The region was also impacted by noise pollution from the diamond mines.
These environmental damages had wider consequences. Communities around diamond mines were affected by health problems and higher rates of malaria and diarrheal infections.
The most significant impact found in the report was the diamond mining industry’s negative effects both on the availability of water sources and water quality in the local area.
Water scarcity was caused by the large depth of the diamond mine pits, which is lower than the water table or the bottom of local wells. This also contributed to water quality problems, which in turn led to a higher incidence of skin diseases, respiratory infections, and malaria in local communities.
Airborne emissions from mines were also produced at every stage of the cycle, especially during exploration, development, construction and operation. The wind picks up small-sized particles from the mines, which pollute nearby ecosystems.
A 2020 study evaluated the environmental impact of diamond mining in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The study was focused on alluvial mining of diamonds.
Why lab-grown diamonds are better that mined diamonds
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Alluvial gems were naturally eroded (Kimberlite) and then placed in a new environment through waterways. They are found in riverbeds or floodplains.
Alluvial diamond mining causes severe environmental damage. This study reveals that the mines studied are susceptible to river pollution, deforestation, water scarcity, and unsafe working conditions.
Synthetic Diamonds can be materially identical to mined Diamonds
The chemical and physical properties of synthetic or lab-grown diamonds is identical to those obtained from mines. They are made from the exact same material: pure crystallized carbon in an isotropic, three-dimensional structure.
Experts in precious stones are unable to tell the difference between synthetic and mined diamonds, although the letters “LG” (lab-grown) are commonly inscribed at the base of synthetic stones.
Diamonds are formed in nature deep underground when heat and pressure exert their influence over carbon over a long period of time. Subterranean volcanic eruptions move them closer to the earth’s surface, where they are excavated.
This is done in a laboratory with a fragment of diamond placed inside a sealed chamber. The chamber is heated up to extreme temperatures, similar to the surface temperatures of the sun.
Over a few days, gases fill the chamber and add crystallized carbon to the diamond.
In 2018, the United States government’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) made a landmark ruling that included synthetic diamonds in the same definition as mined diamonds.
How do synthetic diamonds are used today?
The multitude of synthetic diamond applications today is a testament to the fact they are an exact replacement for mined ones and should eliminate the need to have a socially and economically destructive diamond mining industry.
The hardness of synthetic diamonds is used in industrial applications. This property is especially useful in machine tools and cutting tools, which use diamond-tipped edges to polishe, cut or wear away any other material.
The largest market for synthetic diamonds is diamond-tipped drill bit, diamond powder abrasive and other uses in machining, tools and manufacturing.
Further Reading: Reliable Diamond Analysis Performed by FTIR Spectroscopy
Synthetic diamonds can be used as heat sinks in electronics for high-power lasers, arrays, and high power transistor devices. This is due to their high thermal conductivity which – as is rarely the case in most materials – coexists with negligible electrical conductivity.
For advanced optics applications, hard, chemically inert synthetic diamants with high thermal conductivity (CTE), and a low coefficient for thermal expansion (CTE), are well-suited. For windows transmitting microwave radiation and windows transmitting infrared, synthetic diamonds perform better than any other material.
Many optics systems are replacing zinc selenide in high-power CO with pure carbon due to falling prices and higher quality of synthetic diamonds.2 lasers’ output windows.
Synthetic diamonds have been explored as potential semiconductor materials. Synthetic diamonds can be enriched with boron or other phosphorus particles to produce a compound with semiconductor characteristics. This could lead to less harmful methods for semiconductor manufacturing in the near future.
A synthetic diamond is not worth the risk, aside from fashion and speculation. The significant environmental and social damage that the diamond mining industry causes is not caused by either of these.
Refer to these References and Other Reading
Galli, N. et al. (2020). Environmental effects of diamond mining in Democratic Republic of Congo. 2020 EGU General Assembly Available at: https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu2020-20634.
Kallon, H. D. S. (2019). The Environment and Diamond Mining: What is the Impact?. Njala University. Available at: https://www.rroij.com/open-access/pdfdownload.php?aid=87423.
Milman, O. (2020). Are lab-grown diamonds more ethical than saying ‘I do’ to someone? Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/mar/10/diamonds-lab-grown-climate-change.
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