The Walking Lead (Pb)

The Anaconda mine in the early 1900’s exemplified the growing distance between the “technosphere” and the natural environment—the improvement of technology allowed mining to become an even larger production, but also increased the dangers for humans and the ecosystem. Silica dust from the rapid, steam-powered drills that could cause silicosis was combated with an elaborate ventilation system, while oxygen masks delivered fresh air in otherwise poisonous atmospheres (LeCain 45). The Anaconda company, after all did not want their workers to succumb to diseases caused by adverse occupational conditions, but this did not mean they would not risk it. In fact, the new safety features that often increased speed and efficiency of the mines could also create different safety hazards, thereby subjecting workers to an unfortunate series of ever-changing dangers. The breathing apparatuses that allowed workers to put out dangerous fires also allowed them to continue mining in toxic environments that would have otherwise been deadly, but there was nevertheless always the chance of catastrophe.
That chance of catastrophe extends even after a mine is no longer active, as Sandlos and Keeling discuss in their article about zombie mines. Even though an area may look reclaimed and aesthetically pleasing, the more dangerous side effects linger indefinitely. The most iconic mine clean-up sites, including the Berkely Pit, were in operation before the negative effects of pollution and industrialization were fully understood, which means that very little thought was given to control—and even once those repercussions were understood. Additionally, efforts to clean up mine waste can introduce new potential hazards to humans and the environment. This combination makes mitigating mines almost impossible, and it may be unwise to think otherwise. Furthermore, many people would argue that it does not have to be; that, as the utilitarian would point out, it is a necessary evil for the advancement of technology and society. The environmentalist would argue that the ends do not justify the means, and of course, these motivations all have further political, capital, and perhaps even religious components. Whatever one’s beliefs, however, it is clear that mitigation efforts must be focused on effective and safe containment while also realizing that techno-fixes are not always the answer.

3 thoughts on “The Walking Lead (Pb)”

  1. Marika,
    I enjoyed reading your discussion of mining risks, both will running and after closure. Your realistic attitude towards the difficulty of reclamation of improperly managed mines, such as the Berkeley Pit, is one I share. One thing you don’t discuss is whether or not you think we can have regulations and safety guidelines in place that could make mining safer? Unfortunately, the basics of our society today are heavily reliant on mined goods and until we shift into a new era we will continue to mine. Until that technological paradigm shift, we can introduce safer mining regulations, perhaps automating the process to alleviate human exposure, and ban the use of leaching chemicals. Mining will never be 100% safe for those involved and the environment surrounding, but until we are able to wean ourselves from these mined compounds we need to acknowledge that new protocols are necessary to make it safer.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post on the effects and solutions to mining in our modern world. I really liked how you talked about the usage of masks and how mining has become safer and more efficient with time. Also your mentioning of silicosis reinforces this and makes it even more important to the safety of workers in mines. Another thing I really liked in your second paragraph was how you talked about both utilitarian and environmentalist beliefs but managed to stay neutral and locate a common issue between both beliefs. It was nicely wrapped up with a call back and link to the usage of technological fixes. Good Job!

  3. I love your title that is so funny. It fits perfectly with the readings in a humorous way. Did you know there is a wine that came out with a paring for each season? I have not had the time to finish the series yet. Oh you post was good too. On a serious note, I did like the way that you pointed out the different sides of each perspective. It is not often that someone takes all opinions of the facts into consideration. It makes me think about class today and how the company just wanted to extract more copper from the pit and accidentally made a cleaning system without trying. It really does not matter what your motives are if you do not think about the repercussions.

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