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Utah Doctors Sue Third Largest Mining Corp over Polluting the Air

Here is the first of it’s kind lawsuit….  Taking inspiration from the Occupy movement, in late December a group of doctors and environmental groups in Salt Lake City, Utah, announced a lawsuit against the third-largest mining corporation in the world, Rio Tinto, for violating the Clean Air Act in Utah. This is likely the first time ever that physicians have sued industry for harming public health.

Air pollution causes between 1,000 and 2,000 premature deaths every year in Utah.

Moreover, medical research in the last ten years has firmly established that air pollution causes the same broad array of diseases well known to result from first- and secondhand cigarette smoke – strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, virtually every kind of lung disease, neurologic diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, loss of intelligence, chromosomal damage, higher rates of diabetes, obesity, adverse birth outcomes, and various cancers such as lung cancer, breast cancer and leukemia.

Most of Utah’s cities are in violation of many of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) national air quality standards, and for several days during a typical winter, Utah is plagued by the worst air pollution in the country. The American Lung Association routinely gives Utah’s largest cities an “F” for our air quality.

Open pit copper mine run by London-based mining conglomerate Rio Tinto/Kennecott in Bingham Canyon, Utah. It is the world's largest open-pit mine and has created the world's largest mining-related water pollution problem. (Photo: arbyreed)

This is the world’s largest open-pit mine and has created the largest mining-related water pollution problem in the world. The mine is located on the western doorstep of Salt Lake City, home to 1.8 million people.

The smelting operations and fugitive dust from the 1,100-foot-high waste rock piles and tailings ponds are a constant source of highly toxic heavy metal contamination – lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium – to the air, water and soil of Utah’s largest city.

RTK is making record profits – $15 billion last year. In August, Chairman of the Board Jan du Plessis bragged, “Rio Tinto has produced another set of record-breaking results.”

This issue is simple: RTK can well afford to clean up, but they won’t, and no one is making them. Their contribution to our pollution is hurting all the residents of Salt Lake City and adding to the premature death total.

If the core tenet of the Occupy movement is that corporations and the 1 percent manipulate every level of government to serve their profit-driven agendas and simultaneously disregard – if not openly undermine – the interests of the 99 percent, then there is no better example than RTK’s operation of Utah’s Bingham Canyon mine.

The Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment estimate that the mortality, health and environmental costs to the community from RTK pollution is between $2 billion and $4 billion, more than the value of the wages and taxes that they pay. Nonetheless, a massive public relations budget allows RTK to heavily advertise themselves as “job providers” and take virtually no responsibility for the various environmental and health consequences of their operations.


  1. Yay for the Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment. It’s good to see someone is paying attention.

    We just had what will be largest coal mine in the eastern United States opening here in Southern Indiana and it will be one of the least regulated.

    It appears we have a similar group of physicians here in Indiana. I wonder how active they are. I am going to read up on this. Thanks for the info.

    • No, problem. I just wish we would get off our dependence on coal, fossil fuels, etc. and convert to green energy. I can’t speak for the miners, but myself… I’d much rather work building and installing green energy products (as there will be jobs needed for that) than I would working in a coal mine.

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