Health problems

Physical health problems caused by mining exist in many forms: hair loss, skin diseases, convulsions, respiratory problems, distorted heartbeat, cancer, high levels of arsenic and lead in the blood etc. Lung diseases caused by mining are most common. Consequently a miner has a lower life expectancy than average.

One of the worst results of mining for the local population is health. Health problems caused by mining have both mental and physical aspects.

Long working hours in a mine disturb the life balance. Migrant workers who live far from family and home to work in mines often suffer from depression and other mental disturbances. Alcoholism, drug abuse and prostitution are most common in the communities of migrant miners.

Here you will find a list of the different heavy metals and chemicals used in mining which miners get in touch with on a daily basis. Affecting them directly and the surrounding communities and families in the long term.

Cyanide, a chemical substance used in open-pit mining, is one of the most existing toxic substances. A few grams is enough to kill an adult person. Cyanide can enter the human body through the mouth, skin and inhalation. Miners can absorb it by all three methods, those who inhale small amounts of cyanide suffer from chest aches, vomiting, blood problems, headaches, breathing problems and a thickening thyroid, for many years. Contact with the skin can cause sores; a high exposure can affect the brain and heart, resulting in coma or death. The ‘Mineral Policy Centre’ states cyanide breaks down easily in less toxic forms, minimizing the effects for local communities. Due to Obiri et al and Rights Actions this is a lie. Cyanide breaks down very slowly.

Mercury, a different chemical substance is used in mainly small scale mining; but a by-product of large-scale mining can lead to mercury poisoning. Entering the body through skin contact and inhalation.

Mercury causes neurological and behavioral disorders, for example with speech and concentration. The liver and thyroid are being affected and it can also lead to birth defects.

The events in Choropampa, Peru show how the negligence of the Canadian owned Manhattan Minerals could lead to devastating effects. A few children out playing got in touch with a lost barrel of liquid mercury. Looking like liquid silver, it was attractive not only play with but also to put into bottles and keep under their pillows. Causing illness, paralysis and death.

Arsenic is a heavy metal. It is a toxic substance coming from the ore and released by melting. Metal mines are responsible for 96% of the arsenic emissions worldwide.

A high level of arsenic can lead to skin cancer and tumors.

When skin gets in touch with arsenic, light and dark spots arise. These spots can become cancerous. In Santa Rosa de Copán in Honduras, high levels of arsenic were measured in the blood of people living near to the goldmine. These measurements were five to ten times Human Health Index limits.

Copper can also affect the liver and nervous system. Causing skin allergies and fertility problems for both men and women. Cirrhosis is also a result of copper poisoning.

Exposure to high concentrations of aluminum can cause other health problems. Through skin and inhalation the central nervous system can be affected, it can lead to dementia, loss of memory, apathy and tremors.

Lead is often a byproduct of gold mining. Lead can enter the body through drinking water. High values of lead can lead to stomach aches, leading to convulsions and then death. This happened in Anca, Nigeria. More than 400 children died in 2010 over several months as a result of lead poisoning.

Longtime exposure to iron can lead to siderosis, a lung disease.

The last metal that can cause grave health problems from by gold mining is manganese. In its stable form it is found in the ground but can also exist as airborne dust. Manganese can cause brain damage and respiratory problems. Symptoms are hallucinations and memory loss. Exposure to manganese can cause Parkinson’s disease, as well as bronchitis and pulmonary embolism. Long exposure can cause schizophrenia, depression, weak muscles, headaches and sleeplessness.

The problem with these health risks is the evidence of direct linkages with the presence of gold mining. A problem is the presence of international recognized laboratories that provide a “scientific” ground for mining activities. Often results are steered or even fixed by mining companies. In San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Guatemala, doctors were bribed to make false diagnosis concerning the mining presence.