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Rural Mining and Public Health: A Multi-Disciplinary Study in Hunan Province (2010-present)

Rural Mining and Public Health: A Multi-Disciplinary Study in Hunan Province (2010-present)

One feature of China’s rapid development over the last 35 years has been the proliferation in many rural areas of small scale mining and industry.  In many parts of rural China, particularly in the southwest, the existence of rich mineral deposits offers a tempting opportunity for development, especially in areas where other sources of income are scarce.  However, although mining-related activities can contribute to poverty alleviation in the short term, benefits are often inequitably distributed or accrue largely to outsiders. They may also be far outweighed over the long term by costs in environmental degradation and impacts on human health.  Unless mining is carefully managed, water supplies and soil that support vegetation and animal life become contaminated with heavy metals, to which humans are also exposed through drinking water, crops and animal products, and air.  Mining can also deplete water sources and cause serious disruption to ground water systems.

Most research on the environmental impact of mining in China has looked at large scale operations, and there is relatively little understanding of the implications of small mines in rural areas.  Most of the health research on mining has also focused on occupational exposure, rather than on long term exposure through ecosystems. But because small mines generally have low capitalization, basic equipment, and inexpert management, they often present a greater risk to health.  They are also a particular challenge for remediation because multiple pollution sources are scattered over a substantial area, and inhabitants are often dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods and food supply.  However, the costs of mining are not often taken into account in the livelihood strategies of rural households and local development policy.

This project has undertaken a detailed exploration of the relationship between environment, health and development in a typical lead and zinc mining area in Hunan Province.  A multi-disciplinary team including natural scientists, public health experts, and social scientists has worked together with the local Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to understand the ways in which mining has contributed to development in the area, and its costs in terms of environmental and health impacts. It has also examined the capacity and effectiveness of local agencies and policies to respond to the problems that mining has caused. On the basis of this analysis, the team is now working on a package of experimental interventions that are designed to reduce the risks to human health presented by existing pollution and generate a set of options for integrating more effective ecosystem management with poverty alleviation and improvements in public health.  

Publications related to the project:

Plural forms of Evidence and Uncertainty in Environmental Health: a Comparision of Two Chinese Cases

by Anna Lora-Wainwright, Evidence & Policy, Volume 9, Number 1, 2013

Health risk identification and assessment study for the residents of rural mining village of Fenghuang County, western Hunan province

by ZHANG Xiuwu, 2011, Dissertation for Doctoral Degree

Environmental Quality of Soil Polluted by Mercury and Lead in Polymetallic Deposit Areas of Western Hunan Province

by LI Yonghua, WANG Wuyi, YANG Linsheng, LI Hairong, 2005, Environmental Science, Vol.26, No. 5

Project Memebers

Project Members Academic Background Focus of the work Institute
Wuyi WANG, Linsheng YANG, Yonghua LI, Hairong LI Medical Geography Environment health impacts of lead and zinc mining Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS
Shenghong RAN Physical Geography Land use and livelihood change Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS
Rui ZHENG Psychology Risk perception and response Institute of Psychology, CAS
Jixia LU Sociology Risk perception and response, livelihood change College of Humanities and Development Studies, China Agricultural University
Anna Lora-Wainwright Anthropology Risk perception and response Oxford University
Chunxia LUO
Public Health Disease and local response from health department Institute of Health, Kunming Medical University
Jennifer Holdaway, Chao CAI Interdisciplinarity Project design, research management, research process monitoring  and compiling report Forum on Health, Environment and Development

For more details about the evolution of the project, click here.