In 2000, a gold mine tailings dam in Baia Mare, Romania was breached. Soon thereafter, all the cyanide-rich waste it contained – some 100,000 cubic meters of it – flooded into the surrounding watershed.
Aside from cutting off the water supply of 2.5 million people, it killed nearly all the aquatic life residing in the nearby water.
This event is not unique as we continue destructive practices all over the world, meaning many mountains of once imposing grandeur have had their surroundings reduced to rubble, and their contents exploited.
After grounds have been blasted and their contents extracted, mines tailings – which are cyanide-treated ore wastes – leave a trail of toxic and radioactive substances behind.
Often found in mine tailings are arsenic, barite, sulfur, lead, and manganese – and these are just a few.
These toxins aren’t sedentary, and most will weather away as rain or wind swoops in and distributes their small particles elsewhere. Exposure to these toxins is deadly and results from contact with any land or water that the toxins have seeped into, which of course travels through residential water systems, contaminating our water supplies.
Every year, 182,000 tons of cyanide is used to facilitate gold extraction. Along with cyanide, other toxic chemical used to process ores include sodium ethyl xanthate and potassium amyl xanthate. There are no longer large veins rich in gold, instead gold is found in small concentrations. Because of this, land is blasted around the concentrated area in order to create open pit mines and excavate large amounts of ore.
Of all the gold that is mined, 85 percent is used to make jewelry, from chains and rings to watches. Other common industries reliant on mining include diamonds, silver, copper, and other gems. And of course, coal. After extraction they are use in areas as varied as fuel, medicine, and cosmetics. But as they are shipped off to a more glamorous existence, the land from which they were stolen is left scarred.
Though this all occurs for the sole purpose of extracting ores and other minerals for commercial gain, the resulting profit is less than half of what it costs to clean the site up.
What We Leave Behind, Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay, Seven Stories Press, NYC, copyright 2009
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