Posts Tagged ‘mining’

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Herculaneum, Missouri and La Oroya, Peru. I’ve never been to the former but, when I visited La Oroya in 1975 (about a year after the Peruvian military government had nationalized it), it looked and felt one of those dark, rainy, cold scenes in a dystopian film (like Blade Runner) or, closer to home, the South Works in Chicago. From what I’ve read, Herculaneum was no better.

As it turns out, the two cities are closely connected: the Doe Run Co., one of the world’s largest lead producers (and part of the Renco Group, the private holding company of New York mining mogul Ira Rennert), has operated smelters in both places.* And, in both company towns, workers and their families have suffered high levels of lead poisoning.

As Mother Jones explained back in 2006:

The story of these two towns and how they found each other illustrates an increasingly common pattern: A company faced with mounting public pressure and environmental costs in the United States expands its dirty operations abroad, where regulations are lax, labor costs low, and natural resources abundant–and where impoverished people become dependent on the jobs and charity of the very business that causes them harm.

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After decades of battles, beginning with an ugly labor dispute in the early 1990s and dozens of lawsuits, the Herculaneum smelter was finally closed (in 2013), after Doe Run decided not to make the investments necessary to meet U.S. Clean Air standards. Now, it’s part of the Southwest Jefferson County Mining Site, a superfund project.

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Smelting operations in La Oroya, on the other hand, which in 2013 was classified (by the Blacksmith Institute) as the fifth least recommended city to live on the planet (based on the presence of heavy metals, mercury, arsenic, pesticides and radionuclides in air, soil and water samples and the number of people exposed to pollution), may soon be reopened. Peru’s new president, former Wall Street executive Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, “says Peru needs to relax air-quality standards to attract investors to buy and restart the century-old complex, which processes mineral concentrates into high-value metals for export.”

“Why send concentrate to China or elsewhere when you could smelt it here?” Mr. Kuczynski, who took office Thursday, said in an interview recently. “To do that, you have to have environmental standards that are realistic.”

 

*This is the same Rennert who, in 2015, was found guilty of looting his bankrupt magnesium producer (to the tune of $117 million) and, earlier this year, was forced to restore full pension benefits for 1,350 retired steelworkers who worked at Renco’s bankrupt RG Steel unit. Doe Run Peru halted operations at La Oroya in 2009. The smelter is now controlled by Doe Run’s former creditors, who have until 27 August to find a new buyer. Kuczynski is now trying to extend the liquidation deadline.

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Don Blankenship, the chief executive of the Massey Energy Company in 2010 when a fire in the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners—who should have been charged with murder but was earlier only convicted of a federal misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety standards—was sentenced by U.S. district judge Irene Berge to one year in prison and fined the maximum of $250,000.

That comes out to only about twelve or thirteen days in jail for the deaths of each one of those murdered workers.

That’s why Ann Bybee-Finley [ht: ja] has launched the “Making one year count” campaign, calling on people to send letters to Blankenship every day he is in prison:

She wants to show Blankenship how many people he affected and empower West Virginians to speak out against the abuses and influence of the coal industry in their state. . .

“He only gets one year and nothing we can say or do will change that right now. Working with what we got, how can we make this year more meaningful?” Bybee-Finley said. “If we could make it longer, a lot of people would, but we can’t, right now, so we have to take this alternative approach.”

 

Chart of the day

Posted: 10 November 2015 in Uncategorized
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In the wake of the disaster caused by the dam break at one of BHP Billiton’s jointly owned mines in Brazil, I took a look at the data collection and analysis conducted by Lindsay Newland Bowker and David M. Chambers (pdf) for the Center for Science in Public Participation.

What Bowker and Chambers found is that—in contrast to the prevailing story “that the lower numbers of failures and incidents in the two most recent decades evidence the success of modern mining regulation, improved industry practices and modern technology”—there has been an emerging and pronounced trend since 1960 toward a higher incidence of “Serious” and “Very Serious” failures. In other words, the consequence of loss from Tailings Storage Facility failures has become increasingly greater.

Their conclusion?

The advances in mining technology over the past 100 years which have made it economically feasible to mine lower grades of ore against a century of declining prices have not been counterbalanced with advances in economically efficient means of managing the exponentially expanding volume of associated environmental liabilities in waste rock, tailings and waste waters. In fact those new technologies which do offer better management of mine wastes usually add significant cost and are often detrimental to bottom line financial feasibility. This is evidenced in a post-1990 trend toward un-fundable environmental losses of greater consequence. This interdisciplinary review of TSF failures 1910-2010 establishes a clear and irrefutable relationship between the mega trends that squeeze cash flows for all miners at all locations, and this indisputably clear trend toward failures of ever greater environmental consequence.

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Jean Ritchie, who brought hundreds of traditional songs from her native Appalachia to a wide audience and wrote additional songs, especially about the disasters of coal mining—”and in the process helped ignite the folk song revival of the mid-twentieth century—died on Monday at her home in Berea, Kentucky.

Here are the lyrics to her “Black Waters”:

I come from the mountains, Kentucky’s my home,
Where the wild deer and black bear so lately did roam;
By cool rushing waterfalls the wildflowers dream,
And through every green valley there runs a clear stream.
Now there’s scenes of destruction on every hand
And only black waters run down through my land.

CHORUS
Sad scenes of destruction on every hand,
Black waters, black waters, run down through my land.

O the quail, she’s a pretty bird, she sings a sweet tongue;
In the roots of tall timbers she nests with her young.
But the hillside explodes with the dynamite’s roar,
And the voices of the small birds will sound there no more;
And the hillsides come a—sliding so awful and grand,
And the flooding black waters rise over my land.

CHORUS
Sad scenes of destruction on every hand;
Black waters, black waters run down through the land.

In the rising of the springtime we planted our corn,
In the ending of the springtime we buried a son,
In summer come a nice man, said, “Everything’s fine—
My employer just requires a way to his mine”—
Then they threw down my mountain and covered my corn,
And the grave on the hillside’s a mile deeper down,
And the man stands and talks with his hat in his hand
As the poisonous water spreads over my land.

CHORUS
Sad scenes of destruction on every hand;
Black waters, black waters run down through the land.

Well, I ain’t got no money and not much of a home;
I own my own land, but my land’ s not my own.
But if I had ten million – somewheres thereabouts—
I would buy Perry County and I’d run ’em all out!
Set down on the bank with my bait in my can,
And just watch the clear waters run down through my land!

CHORUS
Well, wouldn’t that be like the old Promised Land?
Black waters, black waters no more in my land!

“West Virginia Mine Disaster” was another of her original songs, performed here by Betsy Rutherford:

And here are the lyrics:

Say, did you see him walking? it was early this morning
He passed by your house on his way to the coal
He was tall, he was slender, and his blue eyes so tender
His occupation was miner, West Virginia his home

It was just about noon, I was feeding the children
Ben Moseley come running for to give us the news
Number eight is all flooded, many men are in danger
And we don’t know their number, but we fear they’re all doomed

So I picked up the baby and I left all the others
For to comfort each other and pray for our own
There’s Timmy, fourteen, and there’s John not much younger
Soon their own time will be coming to go down the black hole

Now if I had the money to do more than just feed them
I’d give them good learning, the best could be found
And when they grew up they’d be checkers and weighers
And not spend their life drilling in the dark underground

And it’s what will I tell to my three little children?
And what will I tell his dear mother at home?
And it’s what will I tell to my poor heart that’s dying?
My heart that’s surely dying since my darling is gone

Say, did you see him walking? it was early this morning
He passed by your house on his way to the coal
He was tall, he was slender, and his blue eyes so tender
His occupation was miner, West Virginia his home