04 May 2012

The Real Cost of Mining

Mining is very prevalent in our society even if a majority of us very rarely see it. We depend on it to
retrieve our precious metals. Mining is how we are able to have all these great types of technologies
such as our computers, ipads, and tablets, not to mention all of our jewelry. All of these things rely
on mining. But many people do not see the true cost of mining. This is the essence of Karl Marx’s
commodity fetish, meaning that we as a society forget the source of these things and only focus on their
value.

This begs the question, what is the true cost of mining? What does it cost to get a gold wedding band?
During our last unit, our group visited Na Nong Bong village, which is being affected by the gold mine built next to their village. Mea Rot, a villager in Na Nong Bong, stated that her brother who worked for the mine as a security guard had recently fallen ill because of the chemical exposure he experienced at the mine. Her brother suffered from a seizure that paralyzed the left side of his body. He has received no compensation from the mine. This community suffered from health problems such as rashes, stinging eyes, and muscle aches on a regular basis. The health care professionals that the villagers visited were not familiar with health problems such as cyanide poisoning and could not adequately help the villagers. Moreover, the villager’s crop yield plummeted when the mine was built. The crops they were able to produce where contaminated from the mine so the villagers could not consume them. For this reason, the villagers had to switch from growing rice to growing rubber trees. The switch from rice to rubber trees is much more significant because growing rice has been this village’s way of life for many generations, but that way of life is now over. This also forced the villagers to buy their food because they could no longer grow their own. The mine has taken this community that was once completely self-sustainable and forced them into the consumer market.

This community was affected because the waste from the mine is seeping into their water supply and
the ground. In Thailand three are mostly open pit mines which really just means they are extremely
large holes in the ground. This creates a lot of excess waste rock. Once the gold is above ground, the ore is crushed and put into huge piles and sprayed with cyanide. Cyanide causes the gold to leak out of the ore. The left over ore which is now contaminated with cyanide is usually abandoned. A rice grain sized  dose of cyanide is lethal. To produce the amount of gold to make one gold wedding band produces 18 tons of wasted ore. The overall waste for every ounce of gold is 79 tons. This waste seeps into the ground contaminating the village’s water sources and crops. In 2006, the Provincial Health Office of Loei conducted blood tests and found that 54 of the 279 villagers tested were suffering from cyanide poisoning. There has not been another round of blood tests since then.

The amount of waste that is produced from mining compared to the amount of reward is shocking.
Whole communities and their way of life are devastated and the environment is destroyed. To top
things off, the villagers do not get any of the benefits from mining and have all of the consequences.
This is not an uncommon situation. All across the world, rural communities are suffering at the expense of wealthier urban individuals.

Morgan Washburn
Loris College

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