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LETTER – Gold mining is toxic

To the Editor –

Recent concerns about potential gold mining in Buckingham County should have many people worried.

There is a great cause for alarm regarding the effects gold mining has on human, animal and plant life. Mining activities produce large quantities of heavy metal waste that are stored in large lagoons with poorly-made earthen dams, which without fail burst, leading to widespread destruction of the environment. In fact, some of the world’s largest environmental disasters have been caused by gold mining.

Many have written about the effect that these terrible mines have on wildlife, causing the death of birds, fish and almost anything else that lives or passes through the area. Whatever life does survive mining usually has problems reproducing and the young that are born often have birth defects that can significantly reduce their chances of survival.

Many have also warned about the impact mining has on the land. These concerns range from the formation of sinkholes, destruction of wildlife habitats, significant reductions in groundwater and streams that reduce the amount of water available for drinking, crop growth and caring for livestock. Additionally, the heavy metals released from mining, particularly mercury, build up in the food chain, ultimately causing harm to human life.

As a toxicologist, all of these issues are of concern, however, one particular area that causes me to worry is the effect that these toxic metals have on the kidneys. One can be exposed to low levels of heavy metals for long periods of time without any signs of kidney failure; then all of a sudden, without warning, the kidneys stop functioning.

This becomes evident when we look at people who work in gold mines. One study worth mentioning took place in a small country called Burkina Faso. Scientists collected information on the health of 50 miners over a five-year period who worked in the gold mine for at least three months. Thirty-two of the 50 patients in the study (64% of cases) died from chronic kidney failure associated with heavy metal toxicity. These deaths can be specifically linked to overexposure to arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, nickel, copper, cobalt and/or mercury, all of which are commonly found in gold mines.

Gold mining is toxic. Anywhere that these mines are allowed to exist, without doubt, they cause significant damage to the environment. Death and destruction are the rule, regardless of what those who want to mine the land say, leaving the community unable to regain what has been lost.

Joe DiNardo