MAC: Mines and Communities

Britain's Olympic medals mining company in court in Utah

Published by MAC on 2013-09-25
Source: Statement, Guardian,

Britain's Olympic medals mining company in court in Utah

London Mining Network press release

23 September 2103

London-based mining multinational Rio Tinto, which provided the metal for the 2012 Olympic medals, is in court in Utah this Tuesday (24 September) for air pollution at the very mine from which most of the Olympic medal metal came.

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Utah Moms for Clean Air, the Sierra Club of Utah and Wild Earth Guardians are pursuing a public interest law case, filed in December 2011, against Rio Tinto's US subsidiary Kennecott for pollution around the Bingham Canyon mine and smelter in Utah, which critics say causes at least 300 extra premature deaths a year in the Salt Lake City area. The case involves regulatory violations, including the company's failure to obtain the necessary US Environmental Protection Agency approval for increased emissions and expanded mining since 2007.

London Mining Network (LMN) Co-ordinator Richard Solly said: "Organizations in Utah have been urging Rio Tinto to clean up its act for ages. We drew attention to the company's poor record during last year's Greenwash Gold Campaign. It's time Rio Tinto took its critics seriously. We wish Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Utah Moms for Clean Air and their allies well with this legal case."

LMN researcher Richard Harkinson said: "Rio Tinto have said they plan to use controversial block-cave underground mining under the existing opencast mine near Salt Lake City. There have been two landslides there this year, causing Rio Tinto lost production and feed to its smelter. Local media have found that Kennecott has posted virtually no bond for clean-up of the mine site. If Rio Tinto were to abandon the mine, taxpayers are therefore likely to be stuck with the reclamation costs. Now the Utah air pollution permitting is under wider public scrutiny."

For more information, see Further weblinks below.

LMN's Richard Harkinson is available for interview on 07563 238179

Tim Wagner of Sierra Club is available for interview on 001 801 467 9294 x 100

London Mining Network is an alliance of 30 organizations concerned about the social and environmental impacts of London-based and London-funded mining companies around the world.

London Mining Network,
Finfuture, 225-229 Seven Sisters Road,
London N4 2DA.
07903 851695

Further background to this story:

Olympic medal mining firm Rio Tinto faces air pollution lawsuit in US

British mining company that provided gold, silver and bronze for London 2012 Olympics sued over claims of 'illegal air pollution'

Rupert Neate

The Guardian

24 September 2013

The British mining company that provided the gold, silver and bronze for London 2012 Olympic medals is being sued over claims of "illegal air pollution" at the open pit mine that produced the Olympic metals.

Doctors, environmentalists and concerned citizens are suing the London-based mining company Rio Tinto in a case that starts on Tuesday. They allege the £60bn company violated clean air laws at the US mine that produced 99% of the metals used in the 4,700 Olympic and Paralympic medals.

The lawsuit filed at Utah district court against Rio subsidiary Kennecott claims the Bingham Canyon mine, near Salt Lake City, has breached air pollution laws for five years causing effects doctors called "similar to smoking 20 cigarettes a day".

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE), one of the groups of claimants, said dust from the mine can be "absorbed into the bloodstream, causing respiratory system damage, adverse pulmonary [heart and lungs] effects and potentially even premature death".

The claimants, which also include Utah Moms for Clean Air and environmental group Wildearth Guardians, say the mine has been "emitting particle matter at levels in excess of those allowed by the US Clean Air Act" for at least five years. Rio Tinto denies the claims.

Claimants allege emissions from the mine, known locally as the "biggest man-made hole on Earth", are a "major health threat to citizens living along the Wasatch Front [the northern part of Utah including the cities of Salt Lake City, Provo and Ogden]".

The boss of Rio Tinto - which made $4.2bn (£2.6bn) profit in the first half of this year - had said the medals were made of some of the most ethically and environmentally friendly metals ever sourced.

Tom Albanese, who was CEO of Rio Tinto until earlier this year, said when the company won the London 2012 contract: "Being ethically responsible is a thread that runs through everything we do. We aim to bring long-lasting positive change to the communities where we work, respecting human rights, bringing economic benefits and looking after the environment ... We have rigorous standards for air quality, ecosystems, biodiversity, climate change, the use of energy, land and water and waste disposal."

The metals used in the medals, which weighed 14 oz (397g) each, were nearly all sourced from Bingham Canyon. The company refined 44kg of gold, 6 tonnes of silver and a couple of tonnes of copper to make the medals. Bronze is an alloy of copper, zinc and tin. Tin was added from mines in England and Australia.

Rio Tinto donated the metals, worth $7.3m, to London 2012 organisers in return for publicity rights.

The lawsuit claims doctors had been "adversely affected" by the emissions from the mine, owned by Kennecott Utah Copper, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto. "On days with severe particulate matter [pollution] in Salt Lake, doctors have found the effect on people who are consistently outdoors is similar to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day."

UPHE said: "These emissions are offensive to observe, particularly given Utah Physicians' knowledge of the adverse health effects of such pollution and pose a significant threat to health, wellbeing and quality of life.

"Utah Physicians feel ethically obligated to confront this illegal pollution in order to protect the health and welfare of its members, patients, friends, families and communities."

In its defence documents, the company said the mine "complied with the relevant provisions of Utah's particle material [emissions] state implementation plan at all times".

"For over 15 years, Kennecott has operated an ambient air quality monitoring station at Copperton, Utah, which station is located to detect potential particulate matter impacts from Bingham Canyon Mine. This monitoring station consistently shows air quality readings well below the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)."

Rio Tinto declined to comment on the case on Monday night.

Rio Tinto's Bingham Canyon pollution 'similar to smoking 20 cigarettes a day': US lawsuit

Anthony Halley

24 September 2013

Doctors, environmentalists and a number of citizens have filed a lawsuit at a Utah district court against Rio Tinto subsidiary Kennecott, claiming that the Bingham Canyon copper mine near Salt Lake City has broken the US Clean Air Act for five years.

Among the claimants is the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, who warns that some of the mine's dust can get into the bloodstream, "causing respiratory system damage, adverse pulmonary effects and potentially even premature death," the Guardian reports.

Other doctors involved in the lawsuit say that the mine's pollution can have effects on people similar to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Visible from outer space, the Bingham Canyon Mine is the deepest open-pit mine in the world today. First discovered by Mormon pioneers in the mid-1800s, its over 1.2 km deep, 2.5 miles wide and covers 7.7 km². Despite having begun production in 1904, the mine is under expansion and is expected to produce until 2030.

Bingham Canyon produced 99% of the metals used in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic medals.

Rio Tinto denies all claims that Bingham Canyon has been emitting particle matter in excess of US environmental laws.

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