MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Mines are Covid hotpots claim several hundred global organisations

Published by MAC on 2020-06-07
Source: The Guardian

Mines are hotspots for spread of Covid-19, study finds

About 4,000 mine workers infected in 18 countries

Corona Virus spreads to indigenous communities near mines

by Stephen Leahy in Ottawa

The Guardian

5 June 2020

Mining sites in Canada, the US and around the world have become hotspots
for the spread of coronavirus, and approximately 4,000 mine workers in 18
countries have tested positive, according to a report by an international
coalition of non-profit groups.

The report links mining sites to virus outbreaks in several Indigenous and
remote communities.

In a separate statement, more than 330 organizations around the world
called mining “one of the most polluting, deadly, and destructive
industries” and accused the industry of ignoring the threats of pandemic
and using it to weaken regulations. “We reject the central claim that
mining represents an essential service,” it reads.

The mining industry pushed governments to declare them “essential” and
many continue to operate throughout the pandemic in the US and Canada,
said Kirsten Francescone of MiningWatch Canada, one of the non-profit
groups that authored the report. “Mine workers and members of nearby
Indigenous and remote rural communities are at grave risk.”

At least 45 infected workers from a fly-in, fly-out work camp housing
thousands at Exxon’s Imperial Oil Kearl Lake oil sands mine project in
northern Alberta flew home in mid-April unknowingly spreading the virus in
five Canadian provinces. This triggered an outbreak in a remote northern
Saskatchewan Dene village, killing two elders, and in a long-term care
home in British Columbia. The Kearl Lake outbreak has expanded to 107
cases as the mine continues to operate.

In mid-May another Alberta oilsands operation reported an outbreak but
Alberta government officials insist these operations must remain open to
protect the economy, said Francescone. “These outbreaks are hardly
surprising with mine workers living together in camps.”

According to the report at least 25 workers were infected and one worker
has died at the Lac des Iles palladium mine operated by Impala Canada in
northern Ontario. The nearby Indigenous community, Gull Bay First Nation,
reported at least eight people infected in connection with the mine
outbreak in a community of only 300. Palladium is a precious metal used in
vehicle pollution-control devices.

The report used field and media reports and company statements to document
at least 69 mining sites around the world with serious outbreaks.
One-third of the companies operating those sites are headquartered in
Canada.

Many of the allegations and comments in the report “grossly misrepresent
the facts”, said Pierre Gratton, president and chief executive officer of
the Mining Association of Canada (MAC). “Within our membership in Canada,
mines are operating Covid free,” Gratton said in an email. MAC does not
represent all mining companies operating in Canada.

Gratton said mining “supports manufacturing, including a number of
healthcare products” and that this is why governments have deemed the
industry essential.

Mining is also treated as an “essential service” in the US, andseveral
outbreaks have occurred. New Mexico’s Chino copper mine was forced to
close indefinitely after a mid-April outbreak when a number of its workers
tested positive.

At the same time, the US Environmental Protection Agency has “waived many
enforcement and compliance obligations during the pandemic”, said Benjamin
Hitchcock Auciello of Earthworks, a US non-profit that co-authored the
report. New projects are conducting environmental-impact assessments
despite the near-impossibility of performing legally required public
consultations, Auciello said.

Many environmental regulations have also been waived for Alberta’s oil
sands industry, one of the world’s largest energy projects, with over
C$243bn (US$180bn) invested. To reduce infection risks “non-essential
activities have been postponed to significantly reduce the number of
people working on-site,” including those involved in “low-risk”
environmental compliance checks, said Tim McMillan, president and CEO of
the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. These temporary measures
allow “companies to focus on critical areas of operations”, McMillan said
in a statement.

The Alberta government’s energy regulator has suspended monitoring
altogether. The province’s energy minister declared that the pandemic was
“a great time to be building a pipeline”.

 

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