Many Mines

Not only does Brazil have a large supply of freshwater resources, but Brazil also has a wide variety of natural resources mined every year.  These elements and metals include gold, aluminum, iron-ore, diamonds, emeralds and traces of many others. In 2010 it was reported that 7,392 mining companies were present throughout the country of Brazil. There are approximately 3,392 mining companies in the southeastern region of Brazil and about 1,258 mining companies located in the northeastern region of Brazil.  Some of the companies intrude illegally, which will be discussed later in regards to interfering with tribal life, like with the Yanomami tribe.

Brazil’s mining industry accounts for 16% of Brazil’s exports, and creates many job opportunities, yet the industry also unfortunately affects the people of Brazil in negative ways.  With the trading price of natural resources often changing, mining companies find difficulty in regulating their costs and miners often find themselves below the poverty line.  Mining also unfortunately leaves behind abandoned mines and tailings of different elements that detrimentally affect the land and water for the Brazilian peoples.  An extreme case includes mercury seeping into water reservoirs and damaging the immune systems of not just miners, but also people simply living in the area. The leaching of mercury into water and the forest is particularly detrimental to villages in the area because this takes the use of these valuable resources away from them, which are part of their lifestyle and living situation.  In particular, when the Amazon River is contaminated from the mercury leakage these negative effects hit the indigenous people like the Yanomami the hardest, who find the Amazon land sacred.

Illegal gold mining on the Yanomami’s land is caused by the gold rush deep in the rainforest. Many Brazilians put cash into gold in fear of a worldwide financial crisis.  All Brazilians are aware of the illegal gold mining industry and the Yanomamis are suffering the most. Illegal miners bring unfamiliar diseases to the Yanomami land like the common cold, the flu, sexually transmitted diseases and indirectly, malaria. The miners have destroyed the indigenous land especially the water in the rivers. By gold mining the workers divert the water from the river causing contaminated water and dry river beds. Thus, the natives cannot bathe, and still water attracts the mosquitoes and therefore the malaria. This severe change in illness and disease in the ancient Yanomami culture is being suddenly influenced by the modern world, mainly in negative ways. Therefore, the presence of mining around indigenous lands negatively affects the lifestyle of the natives and introduces western practices, items and foods. For example, some traditional Yanomami peoples can be found wearing western clothes from outsiders. Also, non-native sugars are introduced into their diets and they develop dental diseases. Indigenous people are losing their culture in response to gold mining.

Overall, mining in the Amazon may be a very profitable business for large companies and even some of these smaller, illicit profiting businesses, but it causes a lot of issues for those who were on this land first, and even the land itself.  The indigenous people in these areas are having their homes torn into by outsiders, who bring diseases, and having their culture altered.  The land is getting polluted, dug up, and left to heal it self when companies lose the profits and funds maintaining their business.  The Amazon has a controversial past and present when it comes to mining to say the least, which is a common thread in terms of mining in the global perspective.



Photo by Jacques Jangoux
Increase in Mines Causes Increase in Deforestation
Mining in Brazil positively affects the economy but negatively effects the environment, thus putting Brazil into a serious debacle. There are many metals in abundance within the grounds of Brazil which triggers the influx of major global mining companies to the Brazilian basin. Therefore, Brazil is home to the largest iron-ore mine and the world’s third largest bauxite mine, both located in the Amazonian state of Para. In order to accommodate the needs of the mines, Brazil deforests the Rainforest to make room for roads. Less tress indicates less biodiversity in the rainforest and contributes to climate change. Unfortunately, more infrastructures are penetrating deeper into the rainforest, degrading the environment. Even though the economy benefits from the large mining production, there are serious and long lasting environmental effects that the Brazilian government and global mining companies need to keep in mind. [1.]

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Uranium Mining
To extract uranium in Brazil, a large amount of water runoff is produced and drains into a reservoir. Even though Brazil has developed an advanced nuclear program to create electricity (as discussed above in the image), this new program may not be the best for the people of Brazil. Currently, uranium concentrations in the groundwater are at the maximum limit permitted by Brazilian legislation, as uranium is one of the most mobile heavy metals. Even though there are seasonal variations of the amount of metals in the water, testing shows a need to control the amount of uranium in the water as the toxicity is shortening the lives of wildlife. [1. Evaluation of Surface Water Quality in water bodies under the influence of uranium mining: Rodgher, et al.]

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As Brazil has grown an unhealthy reliance on hydropower, the mining of coal for electricity has become increasingly important. With the major coal mining in Santa Catarina came a lot of mining sustainability issues. Most threatening were the hazardous tailings left around the area and abandoned mines. Mining has also created a lot of social inequalities. With 28% of the country living in poverty, it is hard for the people to build a protest force, and are required to live under the low pay and circumstances that mine companies provide. Just as the Bolivian miner’s stories in June Nash’s article, there are constant fluctuations of pricing and payment, and it is hard for Brazilian miners to predict and plan for the future. [5. The challenges of sustainability in mining regions: The coal mining region of Santa Catarina Brazil: Glauser, et al.]

The Role of Women in the Mining Industry
In Brazil, gold mines attract small-scale miners from all over in hopes of making money from the work. Though some actually mine, most of the women involved are prostitutes on the land. Some other women take care of other miner’s spot and are known as “housekeepers.” On rare occasion though, a woman can step up and take the man’s job, as seen with one of the “bosses” at the mine who has men working for her while her husband stays home. The work that is required at the mines is not easy and can also be very dangerous. It is a concern about how many people come to work, as an unsanitary and crowded environment has been produced. [2.]

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Iron-ore Mining in Carajás
Ore mining began in Carajás in 1967 in what was expected to be a project that would exploit the world’s largest high-grade iron ore by Vale, the world’s second largest mining corporation. Throughout the 1970s this area was plagued with Araguaia guerilla, so the military government was highly motivated to reduce the conflicts arising over exploiting mine-able resources like copper, manganese, nickel, and gold, as mentioned for the Yanomami tribe. In an effort for the people of these areas to defend their territories, they posted signs saying “deforestation, selling the wood, and fishing are prohibited”. The thought behind posting these was that if Vale wanted this land so badly, they’d have to fight for it. These people also went to the military government and made deals involving giving some land to the government but then getting to keep other land for their villages. [3.]


Carajás Cave
In the large environmental monument that is the Amazon Rainforest, there still remain many places yet to be discovered. One of these places is the Carajás cave, yet since 2012, Vale (Brazil’s largest mining company) has been trying to crush these caves to mine for iron-ore. Vale does account for 16% of Brazil’s exports (mostly going to China) yet many people are putting effort towards prevention of ruining part of the Amazon. The government is allowed to place regulations against mining archaeological sites, but it won’t be long until Vale finds a way around them. The most important step will be finding a way to “balance preservation and development.” [10. Romero, Brazil Expands Mines to Drive Future, but Cost Is a Treasured Link to Its Past:]


Mercury Exposure from Gold Mining
Due to gold mining activities in Brazil, large quantities of mercury are being released into the Amazon River, its tributaries and the air. Mercury is used to help extract gold from the land, thus increasing gold production in Brazil and releasing more mercury into the environment. During the gold mining process, gold-mercury amalgam is burned which releases large amounts of mercury into the air and the contamination effects have been seen in air samples near gold mining establishments. Mercury is imported from other countries to Brazil since it is not native. Since the mercury leaks into the Amazon, fish contain high levels of this metal in their systems. Many people in the Amazon region are dependent on the river for its resources such as fish, so humans accidently expose themselves to mercury by eating fish and other animals from the Amazon. Mercury tailings from gold mining in the 1800s are still prevalent today. [6.]


Effects of Mercury and Gold Mining
A recent survey of Brazilian artisanal miners suggests that those who work with gold have weaker immune systems than those who work with diamonds or emeralds. These mercury-induced immune responses can lead to things such as chronic inflammation, but it is hard to see if these effects could also simply be a result of Malaria. Although mercury has often been seen as a causer of neurodevelopment problems, the stopping of gold mining would be unlikely to have a strong effect due to the fact that mercury has already contaminated the ground in those areas. Exposure to mercury vapor has also remained an issue for the Brazil people. [9. Mercury Alters Immune System Response in Artisanal Gold Miners, Lubick:]

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The Indigenous People are Effected by the Mining in Brazil
Gold mining in Brazil negatively impacts the indigenous peoples by violating treaty rights and cultural heritage. In November of 2013, the government of Brazil ordered the removal of a Canadian-based gold mining project, Belo Sun Mining, along Brazil’s Xingu River. This suspension of the gold mining is held until an assessment of the indigenous people, the Juruna, in the area of the river is completed. In addition to Belo Sun mining, Belo Monte dam contributes to more negative social and environmental aspects by diverting water from the river, which causes a water deficit to the native’s homes. The government also enforces that if mining companies wish to mine, a fee must be paid and the natives must be consulted first. These strict regulations created for mining companies are meant to protect the natives from being violated by the miners’ effects on their land, culture and daily livelihood. [1.]

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Yanomami Tribe
Over 1,000 gold miners, who are working on the land illegally, have infiltrated the Yanomami tribe’s land, leading the tribe to suffer as native people and see their sacred land deteriorate. The miners that have come into the area have passed on diseases like malaria to the indigenous, which has been particularly problematic with critical medical care not being widely accessible to the tribe. This illicit mining has also led to pollution of the rivers the Yanomami use and the forest area around them because of mercury released from the gold mining. The Brazilian congress has been going back and forth with a bill that would allow large-scale mining to occur in these tribal areas, which would be detrimental to these indigenous territories whose voices are often suppressed. [3. The Yanomami,]


In Brazil, there are two main Emerald mines throughout the country. These mines were established years back and they still produced large quantities of stones. There is another deposit in the North, but is not as important to the economy since the quantity is not as valuable to the market. Two mines mentioned above remain as the most crucial due to the production of large and nice looking stones that are made. The impressive stones found in the Brazilian emerald mines are used for gems, beading and carving and contribute greatly to the economy. These emeralds that are made are of highest quality since the size and appearance of them are most demanded by the consumers. Since emerald mining is such a contributor to Brazil’s culture, jobs are created for the people. [1.]


Brazil had had small-scale gold mining efforts going on for decades, as mentioned affecting the Yanomami tribe and other tribes in those area, but there’s been a desire to expand gold mining further throughout the Amazon. Many people now come and go from the boundaries of Suriname, which aren’t very rigid due to a lack of a strong government, but this has affected the society, culture, and economy in unexpected ways. After all this fluctuation in and out of boundaries, its been determined that though its easy to enter Suriname because of its weak borders, often its challenging for these companies to leave due to financial and conceptual barriers. The people in these areas are left with unstable living situations and feel little security and protection due to the ease of companies to come in and take land when desired. [12.]

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