A lot has been written about the environmental damage done by gold mining.
A woman in Guinea searches for gold in a makeshift mining site
Less familiar is the harm that it does to the miners themselves. The gold that shimmers and sparkles in the windows of jewellers’ shops often comes tainted with the blood of the workers who produced it.
This problem was highlighted in October 2007, when more than twenty miners were killed in a landslide at a makeshift mine in Suarez, Columbia. Most of the workers were women, many of them single mothers. Their desperate financial situation left them with no choice but to scrape around for scraps of gold, using picks, shovels and bare hands. The victims were working at the bottom of a pit eight metres deep by fifty metres wide when rain triggered a sudden mudslide.
Equally horrific were the deaths in March 2004 of thirteen people at the Aneka Tambang gold mine in Indonesia.
Most of the fatalities were illegal miners from surrounding villages, and nearly all died from smoke inhalation when a fire started underground. The cause of the blaze remains disputed.
It’s not just small-scale or illegal miners who are endangered; employees of the major mining corporations also risk their lives. In May 2005, four miners were killed near Johannesburg, when an earthquake caused tunnels to collapse. The following year, twenty-one people died at the Durasun mine in eastern Siberia after a fire broke out one hundred meters below ground. Welding equipment probably started the blaze.
Sometimes it isn’t just the miners who are at risk; their families can also be exposed. In May 1998, a truck overturned on the twisting mountain road that leads to the Kumtor Mine in Kyrgyzstan and landed in a river that supplies water to local villages. It was carrying cyanide, of which more than a ton spilled into the river. It was hours before local residents were warned, and in the following days hundreds became ill, while several died. The Canadian company running the mine agreed to pay compensation – but several years later the victims claimed not to have been paid, amidst allegations of corruption.
By Tim Ingle, a director of Ingle & Rhode-The Ethical Jewellers. More of his work can be found at the I&R News Blog.
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