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Photo: Steve D’Esposito/ Earthworks

Dirty Metals

Ruined
Lands,
Poisoned
Copper smelter site near Butte, Montana
Waters
T he first step in mining is to locate a subterranean ore deposit and bring it to the surface. Increasingly,
mining operations find that it’s cheaper to do this by blasting away the soil and surface rock, called
“overburden,” rather than by digging underground shafts. The resulting open-pit mines essentially obliter-
ate the surrounding landscape and open up vast craters. The world’s largest open pit, the Bingham Canyon
mine in Utah, measures 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) deep and 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) wide. Open-pit mines
produce 8 to 10 times as much waste rubble as underground mines. This rubble is generally piled into
enormous mounds, some of them reaching heights of 100 meters, which is nearly as tall as a 30-story
building. In the United States, 97 percent of all metals are now mined in open pits. Globally, that figure is
two-thirds and it’s rising.3
Once the ore is brought to the surface it must be processed year, mines in the United States generate an amount of
to extract the mineral. The processing varies depending on solid waste equivalent in weight to nearly nine times the
the metal being mined, but it too generates immense quan- trash produced by all US cities and towns combined. The
tities of waste. That’s because the amount of recoverable total amount of waste ore (not including overburden) that
metal in even high grade ores is generally just a small frac- has been generated to date by the US metals mining indus-
tion of their total mass. The amount of waste created per try probably exceeds 90 billion tons.5
unit of recovered metal has tended to increase as more and
But to understand why the waste is so dangerous, you
more high-grade deposits are exhausted and the industry
have to look at more than just the amount of it. You have
turns increasingly to lower grade ores. In the United States,
to look at what the waste contains—and a lot of the con-
for example, the copper ore mined at the beginning of the
tents are toxic. When it comes to toxic emissions, metals
20th century consisted of about 2.5 percent usable metal by
mining is one of the leading industries. In the United
weight; today that proportion has dropped to 0.51 percent.
States, where companies are required to report such emis-
In gold mining, it is estimated that only 0.00001 percent
sions, the industry’s own data have earned it the dubious
(that’s one-hundred thousandth of 1 percent) of the ore is
distinction of being the country’s top polluter. In 2001,
actually refined into gold. Everything else is waste.4
the most recent year for which data were available, metals
The cumulative amounts of solid waste produced by these mines produced 1,300 tons of toxic waste—46 percent of
processes are so large as to be almost incomprehensible. As the total for all US industry combined—including 96 per-
a global average, the production of 1 ton of copper results cent of all reported arsenic emissions, and 76 percent of
in 110 tons of waste ore and 200 tons of overburden. Every all lead emissions.6

4
Ruined Lands, Poisoned Waters

Some of these toxics are contaminants of the ore itself—for laden with toxics. On-site tailings disposal generally consists
example, heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, selenium, of bulldozing some of the dried tailings into a dam which
and lead often drain out of the piles of waste rock. But can then retain the more fluid material. The dam is periodi-
other toxics are introduced intentionally during the extrac- cally enlarged as the level of the tailings reservoir rises.
tion process. Gold, for instance, is commonly extracted
through a technique called “heap leaching.” The ore con- Despite its name, a tailings dam bears little structural simi-
taining the gold is crushed, piled into heaps, and sprayed larity to an ordinary river dam. A conventional dam is gen-
with cyanide, which trickles down through the ore, bond- erally constructed as a single project, to a single set of pre-
ing with the gold. The resulting gold-cyanide solution is determined standards. On the other hand, the “construc-
collected at the base of the heap and pumped to a mill, tion” of a tailings dam usually occurs over the life of the
where the gold and cyanide are chemically separated. The mine, which makes it much more difficult to maintain
cyanide is then stored in artificial ponds for reuse. Each structural integrity. Over the past quarter century or so,
bout of leaching takes a few months, after which the heaps tailings dam failures have accounted for three-quarters of
receive a layer of fresh ore. Given the scale and duration of all major mining accidents.8
these operations (usually decades), contamination of the Consider, for example, the failure at the Omai gold mine in
surrounding environment with cyanide is almost Guyana. A project of the Canadian mining corporation
inevitable. A rice-grain sized dose of cyanide can be fatal to Cambior, the Omai is one of the largest open-pit mines in
humans; cyanide concentrations of 1 microgram (one-mil- the world. Its tailings dam failed in 1995, releasing some 3
lionth of a gram) per liter of water can be fatal to fish.7 billion cubic liters of cyanide-laden tailings into the Omai
River, a tributary of Guyana’s largest river, the Essequibo.

Photo: Tibor Kocsis


Following the spill, the President of Guyana declared all 51
Wasting Rivers and Seas kilometers (32 miles) of river drainage from the mine to
the Atlantic Ocean—home to 23,000 people—an official
T oxic emissions can be insidious—largely invisible until
their effects are widespread. But there’s another kind of
mining pollution that’s impossible to miss: tailings dam fail-
“Environmental Disaster Zone.” Initial government reports
estimated the cyanide concentration in the Omai to be 28
ures. A by-product of extraction, tailings are usually a soupy parts per million, which is 140 times the level that the US
to semi-solid suspension of pulverized rock in water, generally Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers lethal.9

Fish kill at Baia Mare, Romania

5
Dirty Metals

To get around the problems of managing tailings on site, It’s especially unfortunate that coastal dumping is practiced
some mines pump them directly into nearby bodies of in parts of the Pacific that are home to some of the world’s
water. “Riverine tailings disposal”—a euphemism for richest coral reef communities—places like the coastal
dumping mine waste into rivers—poisons aquatic ecosys- waters of Marinduque island in the Philippines. Those are
tems, clogs rivers, and can disrupt the hydrology of entire the waters where the Marcopper copper mine pumped 200
watersheds. Once a common practice around the world, it million tons of toxic waste rock over a period of 16 years,
has now been effectively banned by most developed coun- carpeting 80 square kilometers of seabed, suffocating coral
tries, including the United States and Canada. Elsewhere, reefs, and poisoning reef fish. In the island’s fishing com-
the practice is not common, at least officially. Today, only munities, children have tested dangerously high for lead
three mines in the world, all located on the giant Pacific and cyanide.13
island of New Guinea, openly use this disposal method: the In response to public health and ecological concerns over
Ok Tedi, Grasberg, and Porgera mines. (For more on Ok shallow sea disposal, the industry is turning increasingly to
Tedi, see page 7; for Grasberg, see pages 14, 19, and 24. deep-water disposal, a practice in which a pipe conducts the
Porgera is a gold mine run by Placer Dome, a Canadian tailings to a depth of at least 100 meters before releasing
corporation; it has been dumping all its tailings directly them into waters considerably deeper than 500 meters. The
into the Porgera River since 1992.) To date, only three com- industry argues that this is a “best practice” because deep
panies (the Canadian firm Falconbridge and Australian seawater has low levels of dissolved oxygen—a necessary
firms Western Mining Corporation and BHP Billiton) have ingredient for the chemical reactions that release heavy met-
publicly pledged not to dump waste into rivers.10 als from the rock. (See page 9.) But deep-water disposal
Riverine disposal is, however, practiced illegally at many remains highly controversial because so little is known about
other mines. In Ilo, Peru, for example, two mines and a the ecology of the ocean floors, and because of the possibili-
ty that broken pipes, deep-water currents, or geologic activi-
smelter operated by the Southern Peru Copper
ty could disperse the waste into shallower waters.14
Corporation (controlled by the Mexican firm Grupo
Mexico) have caused severe environmental degradation A growing awareness of the risks of marine tailings dispos-
through this kind of dumping, which the company prac- al has led the United States and Canada to effectively ban
ticed for decades, in violation of Peruvian law. Between the practice. And in December 2003, the World Bank’s
1960 and 1992, the company dumped an average of 2,100 Extractive Industries Review recommended that the Bank
tons of smelter slag per day onto beaches north of Ilo; until not finance mines that dump their tailings at sea. But it
1995, it pumped an average of 107,000 tons of tailings per remains to be seen whether such moves are the beginnings
day into nearby Ite Bay. Between 8 and 9 million tons of of a broader ban, since other mines that use marine dispos-
accumulated slag now form artificial beaches along the al continue to be developed. For example, BHP-Billiton has
coast. The mine tailings are now pumped into inland tail- proposed a nickel mine on Indonesia’s Gag Island, which
ings ponds, but these are still contaminating the Locumba contains the third-largest nickel deposit in the world. If the
River, which flows into the bay.11 project is approved in its present form, all waste would be
dumped at sea—even though the coral reefs off the island
Ocean dumping is a form of water disposal that is less con- are among the most biologically diverse in the world.15
spicuous than the river option, and the Ilo mines are hard-
ly the only coastal mines to have used the sea as a waste
disposal site. Coastal dumping is a grave ecological concern Metal Smoke, Acid Air
because coastal waters are biologically the richest parts of
the oceans, and because they support ocean life elsewhere
as well: many open-ocean species depend on coastal habitat T he ore processing at the mine does not yield a metal
that is pure enough to use. Further refining is neces-
sary. For some metals, such as aluminum, nickel, and cop-
for part of their life cycle. Coastal dumping is a menace to
public health as well. For example, in Northern Sulawesi, per, this takes place at a smelter, a kind of furnace in which
Indonesia, the Minahasa Raya gold mine, operated by the very high temperatures release the metal from other mate-
US-based Newmont Corporation, dumped over 4 million rials in the ore. Smelting technology has improved consid-
tons of tailings into Buyat Bay during the mine’s seven-year erably over the past half century, but smelters still produce
a great deal of air pollution, especially oxides of nitrogen
life, from 1996 to 2003. Local people have reported skin
and sulfur, components of smog and acid rain.
rashes after contact with seawater, and a toxicologist has
found heavy metals in fish and plankton.12 Continued on page 8

6
Ruined Lands, Poisoned Waters

Facts on the Ground: The Ok Tedi Mine

T he Ok Tedi mine, on the banks


of the Ok Tedi river in western
Papua New Guinea, began produc-
have been drowned. A 1999 esti-
mate put the amount of forest
damaged in that year alone at 176
that the mine be closed. In 2002,
the CEO of BHP Billiton (the suc-
cessor company to BHP) called the
ing copper and gold for the giant square kilometers, an area nearly project “an environmental abyss”
Australian mining corporation three times the size of Manhattan. and said it should never have been
BHP (Broken Hill Properties Ltd.) Most of the wildlife has disap- built.
in 1984. Because the mine’s tailing peared from the region. Plantings
In the same year, BHP Billiton
dam was destroyed during con- of sago palm and other staple
handed over its 52 percent share
struction by a massive landslide, crops have died, and some 30,000
of the project to a government-
the company convinced the gov- to 50,000 people have been dis-
controlled local corporation, in
ernment to allow it to dump waste placed. One anthropologist study-
exchange for indemnity from
directly into the river. ing the situation coined a new
future legal claims. In an effort at
term to describe it: “ecocide.”
Currently the mine discharges, on remediation, the government has
a daily basis, 80,000 tons of ore The people affected were unable to begun dredging the river to
and 120,000 tons of waste rock negotiate a settlement with BHP remove about 20 million tons of
into the Ok Tedi river. One indus- directly, so a delegation of them sediment per year. The dredging
try-funded study predicts that if addressed their concerns to the has begun to reverse the flooding,
the dumping continues at that rate International Water Tribunal in and vegetation is slowly returning
until the mine is scheduled to The Hague. Although the tribunal to some areas. Ultimately, how-
close in 2010, the total amount of had little power to enforce change, ever, up to 6,600 square kilometers
sediment in the river would be its involvement drew international of vegetation may be destroyed
1.72 billion tons, or the weight of attention. In 1996, an out-of-court during the life of the mine.19
4,712 Empire State Buildings. settlement was reached: BHP was
required to pay compensation and
The dumping has contaminated
reform its waste disposal practices.
the river with toxic metals and
But even the industry and its fun-
caused an enormous, permanent
ders were beginning to wonder Discharge from the
flood. Nearly all the fish in the
whether the mine was worth the Ok Tedi mine, Papua
river have been poisoned, and
damage it was doing. In 2000, the New Guinea
some fish species appear to have
World Bank publicly suggested
gone extinct. Vast tracts of forest

Photo: Steve D’Esposito/ Earthworks

7
Dirty Metals

Close-Up: Your Computer

Y our personal computer con-


tains a medley of metals,
including gold, silver, aluminum,
has been shown to cause a range
of injuries, including abnormal
brain development in children,
of one such operation, in Guiyu, a
village in China’s Guangdong
Province, found workers disman-
lead, copper, iron, zinc, and tin. nerve damage, disruption of the tling computer equipment with
Many of these materials could be endocrine system, and damage to hammers, chisels, screw drivers,
salvaged at the end of the comput- various organs. and their bare hands. Only the
er’s life and recycled. But currently, most readily extracted metal com-
most discarded computers are Because it contains substantial
quantities of valuable metals, e- ponents were recovered. For
dumped in landfills or incinerated.
waste is an internationally traded example, workers would crack
Incineration of electronic waste, or
commodity. Many junked com- open monitors, extract the copper
e-waste, releases heavy metals and
dioxin into the atmosphere. The puters make their way to develop- “yoke,” then dump the smashed
landfill option is also polluting. In ing countries, mostly in Asia, equipment in a field or push it
the United States, about 70 per- where some of the metal is sal- into a river. Area residents say the
cent of the heavy metals in land- vaged. These salvaging operations local water is now too foul-tasting

Sketch: Chris Engnoth


fills come from e-waste. These are usually very crude and operate to drink; drinking water is now
metals can leach into the soil and outside any environmental or trucked into the area from 30 kilo-
groundwater. Exposure to them labor regulations. An investigation meters away.20

Some of the larger and older smelters have done extensive year-old lead smelter operated by the Doe Run lead compa-
ecological damage, primarily from heavy sulfur dioxide emis- ny have caused lead poisoning in 30 percent of the town’s
sions. For example, nickel and copper smelters near Sudbury children. In the Peruvian town of La Oroya, where another
in Ontario, Canada, rendered the soil practically lifeless with- Doe Run smelter operates, a study by the Peruvian Ministry
in 3 kilometers and badly damaged forests, lakes, and wet- of Health revealed that 99 percent of the children have
lands up to 30 kilometers away. Although the original severe lead poisoning, and 20 percent of these children
Sudbury operation shut down in the 1970s, other smelters in needed hospitalization. Yet another type of pollutant detect-
the region continue to number among the top air polluters in ed in the emissions of some smelters, such as Noranda’s
Canada. Close by Sudbury, for example, is Inco’s Central Horne copper smelter in Quebec, Canada, is “persistent
Mills smelter. By far the worst air polluter in the Canadian organic pollutants,” or POPs. These compounds do not
metals mining sector, Central Mills released nearly 622 tons break down readily and they tend to bioaccumulate—that
of sulfur dioxide and other toxic pollutants in 2001. A more is, they build up in the fat of animals in increasing concen-
extreme but less studied case involves the nickel smelters at trations at higher links of the food chain. (“Organic” means
Norilsk, in northeastern Russia. Acid emissions from these they’re carbon-based.) POPs can disrupt a broad range of
smelters, which are still operating, have destroyed an estimat- physiological processes in animals and people.17
ed 3,500 square kilometers of forest and injured the respira-
And since smelters burn huge amounts of fuel (see page
tory health of thousands of people. Worldwide, smelting adds
12), they also release substantial quantities of greenhouse
about 142 million tons of sulfur dioxide to the atmosphere
gases, such as carbon dioxide and perfluorocarbons
every year. That’s 13 percent of total global emissions.16
(PFCs). Aluminum smelters, for example, release 2 tons of
Smelting releases a range of other pollutants as well. carbon dioxide and 1.4 kilos of PFCs for every ton of alu-
Emissions of metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, and minum produced. PFCs have up to 9,200 times the heat-
zinc are common and can pose serious health risks. In the trapping potential of carbon and will linger in the atmos-
town of Herculaneum, Missouri, emissions from the 110- phere for tens of thousands of years.18 ■

8
Ruined Lands, Poisoned Waters

Acid Mine Drainage:


Pollution on a Millennial Scale

G old, copper, silver, and other


valuable metals are often
found in rocks rich in sulfide min-
As they flow downstream, the acid
and toxic metals can kill virtually
all aquatic life for several kilome-
Groundwater near the mine has
registered pH levels as low as
minus 3, which is 10,000 times
erals, such as pyrite, or “fool’s ters and badly degrade down- more acidic than battery acid. And
gold,” and pyrrhotite. Mining stream environments many times experts predict that Iron Mountain
often exposes these rocks to the farther than that. will continue to poison its water-
elements for the first time since shed for at least 3,000 years.
This process, known as acid mine
the rocks were formed. Once they
drainage, or AMD, is the most Treatment procedures for AMD do
are dumped as heaps of waste rock
widespread and persistent form of exist, but they are costly and diffi-
or pumped into impoundments as
water pollution caused by mining. cult to implement. There are basi-
crushed tailings, their sulfides are
The signature of AMD is a slimy, cally two options: either prevent-
exposed to oxygen and water. The
orange coating that builds up in ing water and oxygen from reach-
result is a chemical reaction that
the beds of affected rivers and ing the sulfide-laden waste rock,
produces sulfuric acid, a compo-
streams. This is caused by metals, or applying alkaline materials such
nent of acid rain. But in compari-
especially iron, settling out of the as limestone to the leaching runoff
son to acid rain, the acid in mine
water column. For all practical to counteract the acidity. The first
waste is 20 to 300 times more con-
purposes, AMD is irreversible. option generally requires a massive
centrated.
There is evidence, for example, and very difficult revegetation
As it leaches through the mine that some AMD in the Rio Tinto effort; building soil on barren,
waste, the acid liberates various mining district of southern Spain poisonous rock and then getting
metals from the rock—for exam- is coming from ancient Roman or plants to grow in that soil is not a
ple, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, even Phoenician mines. simple matter. Treating the acid
and lead. These metals are not runoff might seem more feasible,
But ancient mines are small com-
dangerous when embedded in the but to produce a stable result, the
pared to those of our own day.
rock, but once they are freed, they treatment would have to be main-
Take the 17.8 square kilometer
are highly toxic to a broad range tained as a matter of routine
Iron Mountain mine in northern
of living things. In humans, indefinitely—that is, for thousands
California. During nearly a century
chronic exposure to arsenic, for of years. And the limestone treat-
of operation, the mine produced
example, is associated with skin ments produce a metal-contami-
iron, silver, gold, copper, and zinc.
cancer and tumors. Cadmium has nated, toxic sludge that presents
Iron Mountain was closed in 1963,
been linked to liver disease, mer- additional remediation problems.
but 40 years later, AMD continues
cury to nerve damage, and lead to In many developing countries, a
to poison fish and other aquatic
growth retardation in children. lack of resources and political
life in the Sacramento River, which
interest makes treatment through
Eventually, this toxic, acid leachate drains the region. The Sacramento
either option an unlikely
finds its way into streams and flows into the immense San
prospect.21
rivers, where the acid releases still Francisco Bay and there too, the
more metals from exposed rock. AMD is endangering aquatic life.
Photo: Steve D’Esposito/ Earthworks

Porgera gold mine, Papua


New Guinea

9
Dirty Metals

Facts on the Ground: The Yanacocha Mine

O n June 2, 2000, a truck from


the Yanacocha gold mine in
northern Peru spilled 150 kilo-
problems and some have attempt-
ed to press their case against
Newmont in US courts.
tests done by both the government
and the mine, many local river and
stream sites exceed the World
grams of mercury out of some Health Organization (WHO) limits
Yanacocha, located high in the
poorly sealed containers and onto for acidity and concentrations of
Andes, is the most profitable gold
a 43-kilometer stretch of road various metals, such as mercury
mine in South America and the
running through the towns of and arsenic. One site had an alu-
second largest gold mine in the
Choropampa, Magdalena, and San minum concentration 20 times the
world (after the Grasberg mine in
Juan. (Mercury is a secondary WHO limit. (Free aluminum is
Indonesia). Newmont insists that it
product of the mine.) Many local toxic to a wide range of plants and
has been a good corporate citizen
people, not knowing what the animals, including people.) The
of the Yanacocha region. The com-
material was or that it was toxic, tailings dust is also contaminated
munities affected by the mine, the
collected it in the hope that it with toxic metals. And a study
company argues, receive a share of
might be valuable. Other villagers recently commissioned by the IFC
the mining wealth. The company
were hired by the mine to clean up found that acid leaching from the
also claims that it has created over
the spill—but were not provided mine could further degrade local
1,600 jobs in the area, and helped
with any protective gear. Mercury waters.
build schools and clinics.
can damage the lungs, kidneys,
Since the mercury spill, Newmont
and nervous system. It can also But many area residents worry
has proposed expanding the mine
cause birth defects. about the mine. Some argue that
to Quilish Mountain, the sixth
by causing local inflation and
The spill affected an estimated 925 mountain in the area the company
driving people off their land, it has
people; 400 of them were treated would be leveling for gold. Quilish
deepened their poverty. They also
for mercury poisoning and over is a critical source of water for over
worry about the condition of their
130 were hospitalized. The 100,000 people in and around the
streams. “The water that comes
Newmont Mining Company, the nearby city of Cajamarca. Many
down from the mountains is now
US-based corporation that co- local residents, concerned about
brown, full of sediments,” says one
owns the mine with Buenaventura the risks of water pollution, oppose
resident. “The trout are dying.”
Mining of Peru and the World the plan. There have been mass
They worry about the cyanide
Bank’s International Finance protests, including one in April
used to leach the gold out of the
Corporation (IFC), spent $12 to 2003 that drew thousands of peo-
ore; they fear it has contaminated
14 million on the clean-up, but ple to Cajamarca’s main square.
the water and is sickening their
was unable to account for nearly “I’m aware that Peru is a country
livestock. And they worry about
15 percent of the spilled mercury. that relies on mining,” Jorge Hoyos,
what’s in the dust that blows
In exchange for agreeing not to the Mayor of Cajamarca, told a
off the tailing piles and
sue the mine, some of the spill vic- Reuters reporter in 2002. “But we
into their homes.
tims were offered small cash settle- can’t sit by and wait for our
ments and medical care. But many They have reason to water supply to be ruined. We
residents continue to report health worry. According to can’t swap gold for lives.”22
Photo: Payal Sampat/Earthworks

10
Ruined Lands, Poisoned Waters

Protest in Esquel, Argentina

Tambogrande and Esquel: Two Communities


Stand Up to the Companies
T wo rural Latin American com-
munities, each faced with a
large-scale mining project, are
the Peruvian government not the
local community—but the vote
attracted considerable internation-
the mine for 8 or 9 years, but it
does not propose to guarantee the
remediation costs up front.
demonstrating the power of direct, al attention. It was followed by fre-
Esquel is an ecotourist destination;
peaceful opposition. quent protests against the mine,
it is located near the Los Alerces
and a peaceful, three-day general
The small farming community of National Park, home to gigantic,
strike in November 2002. Local
Tambogrande, located in Peru’s 2,000-year-old alerce trees, a kind
activists also began working with
sub-tropical San Lorenzo Valley, is of conifer that grows only in that
their counterparts in other coun-
sitting on deposits of gold and cop- region. Esquel is also a farming
tries to keep Tambogrande in the
per worth millions of dollars. It’s and fishing community. So it’s not
public eye. Finally, in December
also sitting in the midst of prime surprising that when the town
2003, the Peruvian government
orchard country: the San Lorenzo held its own mining referendum,
turned down Manhattan’s pro-
Valley is Peru’s top fruit-growing in March 2003, the response was
posal. The official reasons for the
region. Tambogrande produces similar to what it had been in
rejection included an inadequately
close to half of Peru’s citrus crop. Tambogrande: an overwhelming
researched environmental impact
No. Eighty-one percent of the vot-
In 1999, the Canadian mining assessment, as well as insufficient
ers opposed the mine. (Seventy-
company Manhattan Minerals pro- proof of assets and processing
five percent of Esquel’s residents
posed to relocate half of the town’s capacity. Citizen activism, howev-
voted.) Esquel’s referendum isn’t
16,000 residents, demolish most of er, had created a political context
legally binding either—although it
the town itself, and create an open- in which the proposal’s social and
was called by the provincial gov-
pit mine in its place. The proposal environmental deficiencies could
ernment—but the project has
included a promise of new jobs count against it.23
been stalled since the vote.24
and housing. But the people of
A similar scenario has emerged in
Tambogrande, fearing that the In both Esquel and Tambogrande,
Esquel, a town of about 30,000 in
mine would poison streams and the message to the mining industry
the still largely unspoiled
farmland, said no deal. is essentially the same. Increasingly,
Patagonian region of Argentina.
the communities directly affected by
That message was delivered in a Meridian Gold, a mining company
mining proposals are demanding a
referendum held in June 2002, in based in the United States and
Photo: Juan Miguel Santino

say in decision-making about their


which 93 percent of the voters Canada, is proposing to mine a sil-
future. That right imposes a basic
opposed the mine. (About 75 per- ver and gold deposit about 7 kilo-
obligation upon any form of extrac-
cent of the town’s residents partic- meters outside the town. The mine
tive project: the obligation to obtain
ipated in the referendum.) The would be an open-pit operation
the free, prior, informed consent of
referendum was not legally bind- using 2.7 tons of cyanide per day.
the communities concerned.
ing—the mine proposal was put to The company proposes to operate

11