I was born and raised in Orrington, on the banks of the Penobscot River. However, for the last four years I have been living in El Salvador and working in coordination with people who have struggled with blood, sweat and tears to stop gold, silver and copper mining projects from destroying their communities and country as a whole. I coordinate on a daily basis with the National Roundtable against Metallic Mining in El Salvador and the hundreds of communities it encompasses.
Mining companies have come to communities in El Salvador, and now in Maine, touting jobs and “environmentally safe mining” which uses, they claim, new technology and new techniques.
This is very different from what I have seen firsthand.
I have seen water turned the color of cranberry juice by the high levels of metals leaching out of mine sites that have been inactive for 30 years.
I have talked to people who are facing kidney failure, cancer and rare diseases that attack the central nervous system as a result of drinking this contaminated water.
I have witnessed the agony of families who have seen their loved ones murdered for opposing these projects in communities divided over whether or not to allow mining.
I have talked to unemployed former miners who said that even if mines were reopened in their communities, they would not work there because of the harm they have seen to their communities and their own health.
Everything I have learned and seen in El Salvador has convinced me that mining continues to be an extremely dangerous and dirty industry. It has been said time and time again by experts from across the world that mining is one of the most polluting industries on earth. According to many experts, like Dr. Richard Steiner of the Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy, there is no such thing as a mining project that does not cause some sort of secondary effects on the environment surrounding the mine site. You don’t have to do much research to learn that “environmentally safe mining” still uses cyanide and can create acid mine drainage, a toxic runoff of deadly chemicals like lead and cadmium.
The large-scale gold mines, like the ones in South and Central America, create hundreds of jobs, at best, and, as I understand it, the Maine open-pit mine proposal would create far fewer. Also, the average life of a mine is six to 10 years. What we don’t need in our state is unsustainable short-term employment that leaves us with a long-term toxic legacy. The jobs promised by mining companies are not the jobs we want for our fellow Mainers.
I wrote to legislators in Augusta last week to urge them not to take my word for it regarding any of this information, but to take their time and do their research before acting to weaken Maine’s water protections.
I urged them to investigate how the arsenic, cyanide, lead and sulfuric acid, in acid mine drainage, would affect Maine waters; to verify exactly how many good jobs would be created by the proposed mines and more importantly, how long they will last; to determine who will be left holding the bag and paying for cleanups and medical expenses when subsidiaries formed to operate the mines go out of business.
While lawmakers are rushing to decide on this legislation in the next week or two, our health, environment and livelihoods will be feeling the effects of a flawed, rushed decision for decades, if not centuries, to come. I am confident that if legislators take the time to research and debate this proposed legislation and to listen to the concerns of constituents, they will decide not to pass L.D. 1853.
Above is a photo of an open-pit gold mine in Costa Rica. Please imagine what that would look like in northern Maine.
Jan Morrill lives in Orrington and San Salvador, El Salvador.