The Canadian national newspaper, The Globe and Mail is delivered to the office foyer each morning. The first to get to the offices picks it up and dumps it on the small table in the kitchen where we make coffee and tea in the gallons needed to remain alert through an average day’s work.
I confess that I scan the paper during my first cup of coffee. Mainly I look at the British Columbia news and the business section for stories on mining. I avoid those repetitive stories on buildings too precious to pull down, corrupt mayors and construction company managers, dirty houses in distant native villages, and unfinished police enquiries. There are simply too many to recall the details or get emotional about. Call it sympathy overload if you will.
Every so often the newspaper includes an insert: a glossy fashion magazine; a travel spread of places I have no desire to see; houses of the rich, now sadly for sale; green living as a low-carbon foot-print activity. Thursday’s insert has a big mining truck on the cover—the usual refuge of the unimaginative—and four titles: The Magazine for Clean Living; Corporate Knights; report on Mining; Defining social license in the 21st century. Who could resist picking it up, carrying it back to the office, and skimming for new insight?
Sadly this magazine failed to live up to promise. The cheap paper on which it is printed perfectly reflects the poor journalism printed thereon. One story in particular aroused me to write what I am about to write. The author is Stephanie Boyd who is billed as a filmmaker working in Peru. One of her films has the lurid title Tambogrande, Mangos, Murder, Mining. I should have been warned. She should stick to lurid-titled movies and stay away from journalism flashed through my mind.
Her story is about that old mining whipping boy, namely Goldcorp. Before I proceed, let me tell that I have consulted in the past to Goldcorp, know and like the staff whom I have met, and have written nice things in this blog of their support of the Vancouver opera. What I now write is written at my own prompting—I have not discussed any of this with Goldcorp, nor have I sought their input, opinion, or permission. If I offend them, that is my doing entirely.
The part of Stephanie’s story I want to write about is part of a story that I know a lot about—and about which I have not previously written. But now we must put the lies that abound out there to bed by telling my story.
Here is what Stephanie writes that I will tell my story about:
People cite an unusual increase in miscarriages, birth defects hearing loss, nervous system disorders and other health condition. Sturdy adobe brick homes close to the [Marlin] mine started developing cracks, blamed on vibrations from the mine’s daily explosions.
Many years ago, I managed a program in Los Angles to reassess insurance payments for damage to houses resulting from the Northridge earthquake. We wrote a paper about this. As a result of that work, I got a call to go to the Marlin mine to examine the houses allegedly damaged by the mine. The allegations started when two church engineers from Colorado published a report full of pictures of cracked houses in five villages in the region of the mine. They concluded that no standard geotechnical explanations could explain the cracking of so many houses. They concluded that therefore mine vibrations from blasting and the passage of mine supply trucks on public roads must be the cause. Their report is readily available on the web and I recommend it if you wish to see bad engineering and bad logic rolled into one sanctimonious report.
So I went. I saw many of the houses. I have hundreds of photos to illustrate what I saw. The Guatemalan government had decided to investigate the issue themselves. I was asked to work with them and provide advice. So they and their engineers went out and inspected many houses—the numbers and their observations are all in the very thick government report that is available on the web. (Alternatively contact me if you want copies of the paper and reports.)
With another American engineer of great intellect, I went to see the most-badly cracked houses inspected by the Guatemalan engineers. We did blast vibration monitoring and monitoring of vibrations due to passing heavy trucks.
In a word, I can assure you that none of the vibrations were of a nature as to give rise to cracked houses. But do not forget this is a high seismicity part of the world. We certainly saw much damage that was obviously the result of earthquakes. Nobody seems to write of that. I have written that in a really big earthquake a lot of people in the villages I visited will die. Yet nobody seems to write of that or do anything about it.
In a word, the major causes of cracking in houses that I saw include:
- Foundations built partly on sand or clay and partly on rock—sand compresses and settles when loaded, clay swells and shrinks as it wets and dries, but rock stays firm and solid. The foundations move and the walls crack—badly.
- Houses built in swales—when it is really rainy the water comes down, wets the adobe which then crumbles and the walls fall down. The worst instance of this that I saw was in a village many miles from the mine, separated from the mine by a range of hills and deep valleys. The swale continued to a flat area in front of the house where there was a pool of standing water. Ducks shat in the pool and children played in the water. Not a healthy situation. I did not ask if the children had rashes, but I urged the government engineers to drain the pool in the interests of general health.
- Houses build partly on cut and partly on fill. The most spectacular of many that I saw was a large house built half on the cut made to produce soil that was dumped over the hillside to make a fill. Obviously this house, many miles from the mine, was cracked beyond repair or habitability.
- Houses built on fill that then shook in the earthquakes that occur in the region. I could tell the direction that the seismic waves had come by looking at the walls that had cracked and in many instances fallen down completely.
- Retaining walls of poor construction. I saw many cases of cracked houses built on fill placed behind primitive retaining walls. Obviously the walls moved outwards both statically and as a result of earthquakes. The house cracked correspondingly.
There was one house where I insisted the government move the family out. This lovely house was built on the side of a hill. For years it had stood there precariously. Then the owner got some money and built a toilet on the ground floor. The plumbing leaked and wet the colluvium of the hillside. The house was pulled apart. It was literally split in two when I saw it. Living there was a family that included six beautiful children. I knew from inspection alone that in the next big one the house would fall down and they would be killed.
I made a lot of noise over that one. The government emergency response department came in and arranged for the family to vacate the house and move to another on flat ground. I urged that the house be demolished. I do not know the end of this story, but I hope its outcome if that these six kids grow safe to adulthood.
The houses I saw were all badly cracked or flattened by earthquakes. The only one I saw that had indoor plumbing was the one I had vacated. For the rest washing water was nowhere to be seen. I wondered about other toilet arrangements. And I despaired at kids playing in pools of duck-shit water.
I recommended that the government arrange courses to teach the locals how to build houses that will not collapse in an earthquake. I recommended that somebody teach public health to keep kids clean and away from feces of dogs, ducks, fowl, and other animals.
I do not know if any of this has been done. I fear it has not been done. For it is far easier to protest, entertain foreign journalists with lurid tales, sick kids, and blame it on trucks, blasts, and the mining industry.