Creuseurs know their work is physically dangerous. Death and injury from tunnel collapses are not uncommon. Children sometimes join their older brothers and fathers in the mines.
But what’s less understood are the environmental health risks posed by the extensive mining. Southern Congo holds not only vast deposits of cobalt and copper but also uranium. Scientists have recorded alarming radioactivity levels in some mining regions. Mining waste often pollutes rivers and drinking water. The dust from the pulverized rock is known to cause breathing problems. The mining industry’s toxic fallout is only now being studied by researchers, mostly in Lubumbashi, the country’s mining capital.
The mines provide much-needed work for the region’s millions of mostly impoverished residents. But the work’s toll on land and bodies is seen by many as devastating.
Last year, Lena Mucha, 34, a German photojournalist, met with people who were directly affected by the mining activities in the region. She met with mothers who had miscarriages and photographed infants born with deformities whose fathers worked in the mines.
Cobalt is mined all over the world, but 60 percent comes from Congo. As Mucha told In Sight, “we are all using cobalt … it’s difficult to not use it, but it’s important to let people know what is the story behind this.”
This project was produced with the support of the International Women’s Media Foundations African Great Lakes Reporting fellowship.
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