Mercury, Mining, and Empire: The Human and Ecological Cost of Colonial Silver Mining in the Andes

Mercury, Mining, and Empire: The Human and Ecological Cost of Colonial Silver Mining in the Andes

Mercury, Mining, and Empire: The Human and Ecological Cost of Colonial Silver Mining in the Andes

Mercury, Mining, and Empire: The Human and Ecological Cost of Colonial Silver Mining in the Andes

Synopsis

On the basis of an examination of the colonial mercury and silver production processes and related labor systems, Mercury, Mining, and Empire explores the effects of mercury pollution in colonial Huancavelica, Peru, and Potosé, in present-day Bolivia. The book presents a multifaceted and interwoven tale of what colonial exploitation of indigenous peoples and resources left in its wake. It is a socio-ecological history that explores the toxic interrelationships between mercury and silver production, urban environments, and the people who lived and worked in them. Nicholas A. Robins tells the story of how native peoples in the region were conscripted into the noxious ranks of foot soldiers of proto-globalism, and how their fate, and that of their communities, was--and still is--chained to it.

Excerpt

In many ways, this book is as much about colonial mining as it is about contemporary Huancavelica, Peru, and Potosí, Bolivia, where mercury and silver respectively were produced throughout the colonial era, and where the effects of the colonial amalgamation economy continue to reverberate. Today, the residents of both cities shoulder these tragic and toxic legacies, which were central to the rise of the modern global economy. While more mercury was released into the environment in colonial Potosí than Huancavelica (approximately 45,000 metric tons versus 17,000 tons), sampling results suggest that the soils of Huancavelica are more contaminated. This may partially be a result of the steeper valley formation in Huancavelica, its smaller size, and the more concentrated placement of the smelters. The situation today is compounded by the prevalence of mud brick homes in Huancavelica that are constructed with contaminated materials, and underscores the fact that Huancavelica is the capital of Peru’s poorest department. Indeed, such is the contamination that there is off-gassing of elemental mercury vapors from the interior walls of many homes there. While Potosí is more prosperous, better integrated into Bolivia, and has a greater percentage of homes built from brick, the mining of a variety of metals and its accompanying contamination continue there to this day. Despite these differences, many of the residents of both cities continue to breathe toxic air, ingest mercurylaced dust, and are otherwise exposed to the myriad risks of mercury intoxication.

Both cities must contend with their poisonous pasts and the health risks that they present, most notably to women and children. Solutions . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.