The Effects of Copper Mining on Environment and Society

A personal tale of poisoning in a former copper mining town.

  • “Boom, Bust, Boom” by Bill Carter weighs the pros and cons of copper as a vital resource despite the risks that copper mining poses to the environment and our health.
    Cover courtesy First Schaffner Press
  • Ingestion of arsenic, a poisonous byproduct of copper mining, can cause irritation of stomach and intestines, nerve injury, and possibly liver damage.
    Photo by Fotolia/axe_olga

Boom, Bust, Boom (First Schaffner Press, 2013), by Bill Carter, explores the presence of copper in our lives and its potential cost on our health, economy, and our environment. The following excerpt, from the first chapter "Tainted Vegetables," recounts the author’s personal experience with the effects of copper mining after he is poisoned by the vegetables grown in the arsenic-laced soil of his family garden.

"I like my town with a little drop of poison."
—Tom Waits

Every spring I plant a garden, a small but noble pursuit. Small in the sense that there are many more important items on the daily calendars of our lives, but noble because each step of self-sustainability has a lovely feeling of beating the ever-invasive food industry at its own game.

In my line of work, I travel a lot, sometimes to places where food is measured by cups of rice a week, and water is delivered to homes by ten-year-olds who have walked five miles through desolation to get to a well. Planting a garden is a way of keeping the harsh realities of the world at bay. It seems a sane practice in a world hell-bent on destroying itself.

When home, I try to talk to the plants every day. I grew up on a farm, so speaking to budding pomegranates seems natural to me, sometimes more so than speaking to my neighbor. Peaches and apricots are good listeners, too. I go to them for comfort. I trust the plants. And the seeds, although invisible, give great solace as they incubate in the ground.

This particular spring carries special meaning for me. My wife is pregnant with our second daughter and our two-year-old is eager to take on the chores of watering and helping her dad with the daily garden duties. My plan is to create a large vegetable garden in a backyard area we have never used. It is situated between two tall trees, perfect for morning and afternoon sun but shaded during midday.

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