If you drive a car, wear jewelry, or use a cell phone, you use the products of mineral mining. But mining for aluminum, gold, and other metals exacts a steep toll in damage to ecosystems and human health. A recent report from Earthworks and Oxfam America, Dirty Metals: Mining, Communities and the Environment, details the waste and pollution produced by modern mining.
Although a lot of mining now takes place
in Third World countries, the United States has its share of mining
problems, according to the report. In Montana, Nevada and Colorado,
the cyanide used to leach gold out of ore has poisoned nearby
waters, killing fish and birds. Each year, metals mining produces
1.25 million tons of toxic waste — almost half of the total
produced by all U.S. industry combined — and it uses enough
energy to power 25 million households.
don’t make the connection between the ring on their finger
and a mine site they can’t see," says Payal Sampat of
Earthworks and the Mineral Policy Center. She adds that more than
half of new mining investments are made to obtain gold, while over
80 percent of all gold mined is turned into jewelry.
Mining companies and indigenous cultures often clash in places like
Indonesia and Peru, but the report reminds us that American Indians
face the same issues. Nevada’s Carlin Trend, the
second-largest gold deposit in the world, lies on land claimed by
the Western Shoshone, but the tribe has never been paid royalties
or compensated for the damage to its land and water.
After reading this report, you’ll be sure to look for a
recycling bin next time you want to toss a soda can, and
you’ll be inclined to buy your beloved an antique gold ring,
instead of a brand-new one. For a copy of the report, see