Sinking Deeper

This week’s reading of “Between the Heavens and the Earth” sheds light on the advancements in technology which made underground mining possible but also illustrated the many issues which have come with these technologies. Some of the issues they ran into were transecting underground water tables, the decrease in air quality as well as the increase in air temperature. The description of a photo illustrating men working in the Butte mine read “Butte mines sank deeper, mining engineers created complex pumping, ventilation, and cooling systems that made it possible for humans to survive and work in harsh underground environments” (p. 37). Though many of these issues originated from natural aspects of the subterrestrial environment air quality got even worse when some mines switched to using steam powered equipment to break up the rock inside. One event described in a Comstock miner’s journal revealed that even with the addition of ventilation systems the heat made him “physically ill” and “ironically, he was later killed when his sleeve caught in a ventilation blower” (p.41). Later innovation led to the technology of mouth-fed devices and the ability to carry oxygen tanks on your back when entering a mine either when working or for rescue situations. After these inventions “a 1923 Bureau of Mines study found that twenty-seven “helmet men” had died that year while conducting rescues or doing other work in a toxic mine environment” (p. 46).

There certainly was much more in this reading as well as the Sandos and Keeling which results in much thought towards how we approach mining today. Unfortunately to me it seems mining will always have inherent and often unknown risks since its involvement in so many different intertwined systems such as ecology, social, economic and political. While it still continues I think there needs to extensive analysis of the environmental processes before and after the mines operation. Additionally, strict agreements for the monitoring and cleanup of sites need to be revised and followed. Making mines environmentally and employee safe I think is absolutely necessary given the dangerous results which may occur but this seems to be a rather wicked issue to overcome given the history of mining impacts during and after operation.

1 thought on “Sinking Deeper”

  1. Good summary of the technological advances in mining. Without these most if not all of the mines would not be able to exist to the extent at which they did. Being able to breathe underground and remove groundwater were huge accomplishments. I think it’s important to note all the toxic chemicals and sediment that came with pumping out this ground water. I totally agree that mines need to be more closely regulated. It seems often times that the environmental cost is never calculated to the full extent. I don’t think that people care about the inherent risks of mining as long as it means they earn the profit. There seems to be a dangerous precedent in the mining industry of holding profit as more important than environmental safety.

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