We Should Take Butte, Montana, and Push It Somewhere Else!

    Copper mines boomed around the turn of the nineteenth century. This was primarily due the rise of electricity in just about every application imaginable, from manufacturing plants to street lights to home appliances (LeCain, 2009, pg. 26-29). Mining is, by and large, a dangerous venture. This fact rang especially true in the early days of copper mining, as it was not uncommon for miners to perish while on the job. One of the most notable killers was that of fire (pg. 49-50). Once ignited, infernos would ravage through mine shafts, trapping the men inside. Even if these poor souls managed to avoid heat stroke or burning to death, there was a strong likelihood that they’d succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning instead. If immediate hazards such as fire didn’t kill miners, the silica dust they inhaled eventually would (pg. 45). Silica particles have a nasty habit of getting themselves jammed into lungs. With prolonged exposure, this can lead to a fatal disease known as silicosis. One of the earliest attempts to reduce these work-related casualties was a device known as the Draeger helmet. This helmet was originally intended for deep sea diving, but found a home in the mining industry. By providing a steady flow of oxygen for miners, the device allowed them to survive in otherwise life-threatening conditions, such as smoke-choked areas (pg. 46-47). On the surface, this sounds like a good thing. But if one peels back the layers, they quickly discover that Draeger helmets were little more than a technological fix for poorly constructed mines. Rather than trying to improve the work environment, some companies would simply put the helmets on the miners and send them down to continue business as usual. In a way, the helmets became an excuse for the hazardous conditions, when in reality, they were a symptom of a greater problem.  


   A vast majority of humanity’s electronics require precious metals to function (Sandlos and Keeling, 2013). Given the tech-saturated world we humans live in, simply ceasing mining operations doesn’t seem to be the most practical solution. We may eventually develop an environmentally-friendly alternative to these metals, but for the time being, it is imperative that we take as many precautions beforehand to minimize a mine’s impact on the environment (and ourselves). Prior to construction, I believe a vital question to ask is, “Does this mine need to exist in the first place?” If the answer is “no”, then those plans can be promptly nipped in the bud. If the answer is “yes”, then the next logical step would be a layout of operations: the location of the mine, how long/deep/wide it’s projected to be, worker safety, and how the company plans to dispose of the waste. Again, if the company finds it cannot handle these responsibilities, then it should be prohibited from moving so much as a pebble. Obviously, current or pre-existing mines are far greater threats than a theoretical operation. For the ones still operating, I think the best course of action would be to implement strict regulations on companies to minimize worker endangerment and avoid improper disposal of waste. If we’re speaking in proximate terms, it’s likely that mining can be made a safe occupation for humans in the 21st century. We’ve constructed buildings that can withstand earthquakes and suits that allow us to survive in the depths of outer space. To me, stable mines and adequate protection for workers doesn’t seem that far out of our reach. Though realistically speaking, human miners will probably be replaced by machines, eliminating the need to make mining environments hospitable for said humans (I’m starting to suspect you can draw anything back to robots). This leaves us with the long-term environmental problems caused by defunct mines, also known as “zombie mines”. Despite ceasing operations, mines such as Canada’s Giant Mine continue to leach pollutants into the greater ecosystem, affecting the quality of life of wildlife and humans alike (Sandlos and Keeling, 2013). To be frank, the heavy metals and radiation from the mines might be impossible to remedy unless we can somehow reverse or destroy them. We can contain toxic material or put it somewhere else, but that isn’t so much ridding us of the problem as it is setting it aside for later. If we care about the future of the planet and our descendents, then mining needs to be taken into careful consideration. As indicated by sites like Giant Mine, failure to do so might condemn us to an eternity of keeping our mistakes under control.

Works Cited:

LeCain, T. J. (2009). Mass Destruction: The Men and Giant Mines That Wired America and Scarred the Planet. Rutgers University Press.

Sandlos, J., & Keeling, A. (2013, May). Zombie Mines and the (Over)burden of History. Retrieved October 05, 2018, from https://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/article/zombie-mines-and-the-overburden-of-history/


4 thoughts on “We Should Take Butte, Montana, and Push It Somewhere Else!”

  1. Hi Rebecca!
    I have to admit, this week’s titles are especially clever and funny, but I got all the way down to the bottom and there was yours which was just so perfect that I’m still laughing. I’m assuming you meant that as a Spongebob reference which is how I appreciated it but if that wasn’t the intention then that’s a little awkward. With regards to the actual content of your post, it was fantastic. I like the approach you took in analyzing mining technology in reference to the “technological fix” and the fact that mining companies really aren’t getting to the root of the problem when they come up with a solution to one specific problem like the Draeger helmet. You also chose to focus on working conditions for miners which was an important and interesting take on the readings. I completely agree with you that the practice of mining can’t really just be stopped abruptly since it is so heavily woven into society. I also agree with the concept of analyzing a mine project beforehand in order to solve some of mining’s problems and I mentioned this in my own post. I like the other solutions you offer as well, in terms of using technology itself to help make mines safer and more environmentally friendly. You did a really good job incorporating sources into your post, too. Great post overall and awesome title!

  2. Hi, Madalyn. I’m glad my title made you laugh. Since you asked, it is indeed a SpongeBob reference. Many of my titles have been in reference to something, primarily song lyrics, so I always appreciate when somebody gets it. Thanks!

  3. Thank you for the follow-up, I very much appreciate the references because that’s pretty much how I think anyway. Happy Leif Erickson day by the way!:)

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