Environmental impact

Environmental impact

Mining in Tibet has an alarming potential to pollute land, air and water. And not just in Tibet—in the nations downstream from Tibet. The consequences of any mining disaster could be far-reaching if heavy metals should leach into Tibet's rivers. Given China's abysmal mining safety record, this situation is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen.

At the Gyama mine site, there have been numerous reports by Tibetan nomads of toxic leaks poisoning their yaks. Backing up this assertion is a paper published in 2010 in Science of the Total Environment (Dutch academic journal), which found elevated concentrations of six metals in the surface water and streambeds in the middle and upper reaches of Gyama valley. The paper concluded this posed very high risks to the local environment and a great potential threat to downstream water users.

Toxic substances such as mercury and cyanide may be released during the operation of small gold-mining ventures. And digging itself could cause toxins like arsenic to be released. Arsenic can ruin grazing and agricultural lands, poison groundwater, and cause humans and animals to become very ill and die with long-term exposure. Arsenic occurs naturally at varying soil-depths in the Himalayas. Major arsenic poisoning has haunted Bangladesh from the digging of scores of tube-wells for drinking water.

Gyama Mine tailings storage
Gyama Mine tailings storage:
Toxic sludge is poured at the top of the hill (lower left) and goes downhill to the tailings dam (upper right). The tailings dam may last 50 years, or it may leak before that—leaking pollutants into the Gyama River, and then on into the Lhasa River.
tailings pond at Tanjianshan
This is a tailings pond at Tanjianshan gold mine, NW Qinghai. The waste goop created when concentrating the ore goes into this swimming-pool-like structure. In other words, rampant pollution. Tianjanshan is located in remote desert: the population here consists primarily of Chinese immigrant workers.
Xitieshan pollution
Xitieshan pollution:
This Google Earth image illustrates how little consideration is given by the Western Mining Company, its owner, to the environment or health. You can see that coal and chemical dust is flying all over, and mined rock containing lead and zinc sitting next to the town. This implies that the company, which is controlled by the CCP government, isn't worried about such things. Xitieshan lead-zinc mine, Qinghai

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