In Salt Lake City, Utah, Rio Tinto plc operates the world’s largest open pit copper, molybdenum and gold mine. It will provide 99 per cent of the metals for the medals at the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics, advertised as the most ‘sustainable’ Games ever. The remaining 1 per cent will come from Rio Tinto’s mine in development in the south Gobi desert in Mongolia.
The headline 7.75 kilograms of gold for the Games will cost in the order of US$100,000, a staggeringly low price for the massive branding exposure. The Games, broadcast to four billion people over 29 days, provide Rio Tinto with a huge platform from which to promote its claims of sustainability, which it conflates with a notion of product ‘traceability’ – ‘from mines to medals’.
Jonathan Edwards, London 2012’s leading official athlete, may believe the medals are ‘worth going to bed with’. But organisations representing people living downwind and downstream of Rio Tinto’s mines know the cost is far too high.
Brian Moench, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment
Utah residents will find it easy to hold their applause for Rio Tinto. Rio Tinto’s Kennecott open pit copper mine and smelter are on the edge of the Great Salt Lake wetlands and Utah’s largest urban area, Salt Lake County. There is no comparable geographical juxtaposition of urbanisation and heavy duty mining and smelting anywhere in the world.
Salt Lake City has severe air pollution problems. The American Lung Association gives it the rank of ‘F’, ie ‘red’ for ‘unhealthy’, for ozone and for small particulates. Rio Tinto is the largest contributor, responsible for over 30 pert cent of the particulate air pollution. This pollution comprises heavy metals contamination of our air, water, and soil. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, using American Heart Association guidance, calculate that Rio Tinto’s air pollution is responsible for about 150 premature deaths every year. Its copper production has been estimated to result in two gallons of highly contaminated water for each pound of copper produced. Its contamination of underground aquifers in the Salt Lake Valley and discharges into the Great Salt Lake constitute the largest mining-caused water pollution in the world.
Rio Tinto made about US$15 billion after-tax profits last year, more than enough to make a genuine commitment to air and water pollution reduction in Salt Lake City. It won’t do it.
Sukhgerel Dugersuren, Mongolian NGO Oyu Tolgoi Watch
Water is scarce in the Gobi desert ecosystem. Rio Tinto (which has majority ownership of the mine here) has not demonstrated the availability of water resources, yet plans to operate the mine, an international airport, and a coal-fired 480 megawatt power plant.
The mine construction process has already depleted the water resources. The company is pumping water from the central well of Khanbogd soum, the nearest settlement with a population of around 9,000. It is taking away drinking water from local communities at a daily rate of 25 tons per well. In August the company refused to show its water approvals and to allow site entry to inspect documents. Khanbogd soum is running out of water and this will eventually force the families there to vacate the land and join the homeless poor in Ulaanbaatar.
The company wants no public discussion of toxic emissions, chemical exposure and health risks, so there are no public Oyu Tolgoi project health impact assessments. Local communities, especially nomadic herders, are not aware of the chemical exposure and health risks the mine will have for them and their livestock. They guess the meat of the animals they herd and consume may also be contaminated, but have no information and no choice.
In a sign of things to come, in 2004 the company relocated 11 nomadic households using individual contracts. These prohibit public disclosure and require the displaced to absolve the company of any liability for relocation. Oyu Tolgoi Watch interviewed eight of the relocated households and found that all have suffered loss of herds due to frozen land without animal shelter, inadequate water supplies and poor grazing. This is in violation of internationally accepted norms requiring that companies support relocated communities through the transition and ensure there is no lowering of living standards.
The nomadic herders in the south Gobi region are carriers of an ancient culture. However, Rio Tinto and its investors refuse to recognise them as indigenous to this area, and because of loss of pasture land, their lifestyle is under threat of extinction.
To find out more about the campaign visit the London Mining Network or the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment
Showing Israel the red card As UEFA prepares to stage the 2013 European under-21 championship in Israel, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi reports on the exclusion of Palestinian footballers
Jeremy Hardy thinks… about competition 'Did sibling rivalry make you happy? Would you like to be treated by a more competitive doctor?'
The neoliberal Games: who are the real winners from London 2012? Far from embodying some timeless ‘Olympic spirit’, the 2012 Games reflect the injustice and inequality of the current economic system, writes David Renton
The day Greece’s TVs went dark Hilary Wainwright reports from Thessaloniki on what happened when the state ordered Greece’s state broadcaster to shut down, and the situation now
Winning at Walmart The OUR Walmart campaign has been shaking up labour organising in the US. As they prepared for their current strike, Alex Wood spent a month with the people behind a new kind of fightback
Toxic gas: why we need to stop fracking Tony Bosworth and Helen Rimmer report on plans to expand fracking across the UK and look at why we need to leave shale gas in the ground
Rio’s iron heel As host of the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, the Brazilian government is trying to ‘pacify’ the gangs in Rio’s favelas. But, Mike Davis reports, the needs of the favelados have taken a back seat
Canary Wharf: the dark tower This month the sterile steel of Canary Wharf will play host to anti-G8 protests. Daniel Turi of Occupy London gives us the lowdown on the speculators’ skyscrapers