I recently had the immeasurable pleasure of meeting with Matthew Stock and Steve Rutherford, CEO and COO of Mesabi Metallics (formerly Essar Steel), respectively. We talked about kids and nationalities, Yorkshire pudding and frog’s legs, button-box accordions and Brexit; but mostly, we talked about mining – Minnesota mining and mining all over the world. I think Mathew was a little apprehensive as to why this little Slovenian woman wanted to meet with him to discuss mining. I explained that I was involved in a new group, Fight for Mining Minnesota; and I wondered what our group might be able to do to support Mesabi Metallics. And, I wanted to soak up as much as I could from their collective knowledge of the mining industry that virtually encompasses the entire globe.
Matthew and Steve come jam-packed with mining expertise that could fill volumes of textbooks from all of their combined years in the mining industry. They’ve both traveled all over the world, observing mining practices in countless countries. Mathew noted that during his visits to China, there are days on end when it’s recommended not to venture outdoors due to the poor air quality. Looking out his windows, he could see nothing but the dirty, grayish fog that infiltrates the country from its vast mining pursuits. Cancer rates are skyrocketing in China; and health issues, particularly among children, have become a national problem. Yet China vigorously pursues mining in their endeavor for economic supremacy – fearlessly reminiscent of Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward.
India’s most dangerous profession is mining, averaging a mining-associated death every ten days. Safety standards and procedures were enacted in 1973, but India’s system has failed dreadfully. India’s National Human Rights Commission notes that most mining deaths can be blamed on falls, emphasizing the necessity of higher standards and safeguards. Mineworkers often wear toeless sandals as they work the molten iron. As cheap labor, mineworkers are neither supplied with nor do they own appropriate protective garments for working in the industry. Miners are exposed to environmental hazards as well, including dust, noise, heat, and humidity. Steve inquired about injuries in this dangerous work environment. He was told that, not only do regular injuries occur, some workers have actually fallen into the molten iron. Safeguards are woefully inadequate to protect against or even curtail injury risk.
South American mining operations are plowing down the Rain Forest at an alarming rate. Wood from the forest is used to fuel mining furnaces. Children, forced into labor in this dangerous industrial environment, carry molten iron in two buckets suspended from a pole across their shoulders. In fact, according to the International Labour Organization, tens of thousands of children are forced to work both above and belowground in mining operations in Africa, Asia, and South America. This work environment is vastly more harmful to children: they breathe air saturated with dust and toxins; they work exhaustive hours in oppressive heat or stand for long hours in water. Their health is severely compromised, and they are essentially slave labor.
My mind conjured vivid, appalling images; and I couldn’t put these disturbing thoughts aside. How arrogant are American activists who ride the tide of Not-In-My-Backyard? While they vehemently lobby against U.S. mining, there are myriad countries with no regard to environmental protocol as they release billowing clouds of chemicals into our global air and swirls of chemicals and metals into our global watersheds – pervasive chemicals and poisonous metals that threaten the very land activists loudly claim needs protecting.
So safely mining minerals and metals here, on Minnesota’s Iron Range, should be set aside so that 100,000 or so people may or may not visit the Boundary Waters annually? Activists clearly trade the infinitesimal potential of mining hazard here for the lives of tens of thousands of children all over the world, forced into servitude and subjected to all sorts of unsafe mining practices. Activists would rather the Rain Forest be bulldozed at mind-boggling rates than have our own U.S. environmental regulations ensure the preservation of our global ecology. By curtailing mining here, activists support the unsafe, unguarded mining practices of countless countries all over the world rather than championing the safe mining technologies here, at home.
The world needs minerals and metals. This is clear in every waking moment of human life. But the activists arrogantly and vehemently proclaim, “Not in my backyard!” Activists, therefore, aren’t really concerned about being environmentally conscientious and socially responsible where the global ecology is concerned. Their investment is only in halting Minnesota mining, where mining has taken place for well over 100 years without environmental impact. Their investment is on a capricious cause that has no proven foundation in science – at the expense of the entirety of our global environment.
Written by Cynthia Omerza Stene