|Unveiling Medals, Veiling Abuse: A profile of the mines sourcing PanAm Medals|
Gold, Copper, and Silver: what exactly are we celebrating?
by compiled by Sakura Saunders
March 3rd, 2015
Barrick Gold and the Royal Canadian Mint today unveiled the design of the medals to be awarded to athletes at this summer's PanAm games. 4,000 competitions medals will be awarded during the course of both the Pan Am Games and the Parapan Am Games.
But why are we using this opportunity to promote the irresponsible practice of open pit gold mining, especially considering that we get more than enough gold these days from recycled sources? Specifically, why are we celebrating a mining company whose abuses are well documented and widespread. To illustrate my point, let's look at the three mines highlighted as the sources of the PanAm medals.
GOLD: Hemlo Gold Camp
The Hemlo Gold Camp is located on the north shore of Lake Superior. In 2001, when Barrick Gold bought Homestake mining company, it acquired a joint venture with Teck-Cominco for two mines in the Hemlo Gold Camp – David Bell and Williams.
Workers at the mines have reported numerous cases of lung ailments at these mines, including some cases of silicosis and sarcoidosis. The company has fought worker compensation claims for these ailments ferociously.
The First Nations indigenous community that lives downstream from the mine are the Pic River peoples. In 2000, the community reported having to replace their water treatment plant in order to remove cyanide from their drinking water.
According to Northwatch, an NGO in northern Ontario, who reviewed the company closure plans, at the Hemlo mines, estimated closure costs and associated financial securities posted by the mining companies, are much lower than real costs are likely to be, as the closure plans for the mines do not include appropriate disposal or treatment of massive piles of acid generating/leachate toxic waste rock, nor do they evaluate the risk of groundwater contamination to the area through seeps from the tailings areas and underground workings.
SILVER: Pueblo Viejo
Despite Barrick's claims that they are improving the quality of the water surrounding Barrick and Goldcorp's Pueblo Viejo Mine in the Dominican Republic, health concerns have appeared after Barrick begun work on the mine.
According to the Economist Magazine, residents claim that "the new mine is poisoning rivers, causing illnesses and the death of farm animals. They want the government to release the environmental-impact assessment for Pueblo Viejo, which it has so far refused to do.
One farmer, María de la Cruz Mariano, said that she began to suffer skin allergies and other ailments in 2010, after [Barrick] began work. Tests on her blood conducted by a private laboratory showed high levels of lead, sulphur, cyanide and zinc. Some of her cattle have died from bovine anaemia, which can be caused by ingesting cyanide. Other residents report that previously clean local rivers have become polluted since [Barrick] built a dam to collect water containing cyanide, which is used to leach gold from crushed rock."
An article in Al Jazeera claims that the Pueblo Viejo mine is what activists point to when building resistance to other mining projects throughout the country. Isn't it ironic that this same mine is celebrated in Canada and spotlighted through the PanAm Games?
COPPER: Zanzibar Mine
Barrick's Zanzibar Mine used 6,919,660,000 litres of water in 2013, located in Chile's "bone-dry Atacama desert". While efforts are made here for water efficiency, water scarcity has "pitted mining companies against farmers and others who fear for the quality and quantity of their supplies," according to a Reuters article about the mine.
Conflicts over water has come to a boil in Barrick's other Chilean project, where construction was halted and Barrick was handed the largest fine in Chilean history because of violations to environmental regulations in this sensitive ecosystem.