The Beiya mine in northwest Yunnan is the largest open pit gold mine in the province. It has proven reserves of 151 tons of gold and new discoveries have been made as recently as 2011. The mine has been repeatedly accused of polluting ground water supplies and intimidating locals.
Villagers have been alarmed for several years as cases of lead poisoning they blame on the mine have increased — especially in children. Affected people suffer from respiratory ailments and blood poisoning.
Villagers blame mine-owned cyanide pools built near the town for contaminating local ground water used for domestic and agricultural consumption. Sodium cyanide is often used in gold mining to extract ore from finely ground rock.
Exacerbating lead concerns, several local men have been killed in landslides caused by exploratory blasting within the mine's periphery. When villagers went to protest at mine headquarters, they were assaulted with fire extinguishers and batons.
The mine produces six tons of gold and 17 tons of silver each year and has expanded its landholdings after 25 tons of new gold ore was discovered in 2011. Residents of the nearby village are each paid 968 yuan per year by the mine as compensation for land loss and health complications.
Due to current living conditions, most villagers have decided they want to move away from the mining area. According to the Yunnan Info Daily report only one percent of residents want to stay.
People have been told they would be paid 80,000 yuan per person to relocate but so far no compensation has materialized. A villager surnamed Yang told reporters "if we can relocate, I'll be the first one to go."
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