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Wulong disaster highlights over-mining’s threat to communities and the environment.

The massive landslide at an iron ore mine in rural Chongqing on 5 June 2009, which may have killed more than 70 people, has once again highlighted the dangers China’s mines pose, not just to miners but to nearby communities and the environment as well.

Although the investigation into the cause the landslide has not yet been concluded, the official Chinese media has already ruled out an earthquake, and suggested that it was related to excessive mining. China’s national broadcaster CCTV, reported that the mine owner and two managers had been detained by local police. And the China News Service quoted local residents as saying they had long complained at the effect the privatized mine was having on water resources and vegetation.

The landslide comes just nine months after the Tashan iron ore mine disaster in Shanxi in which 276 people died when a retaining wall of a poorly maintained tailings dump gave way sending a torrent of sludge into Yunhe village, with a population of 1,300, mostly migrant workers.

Soaring demand for coal, iron ore and other minerals, combined with lax enforcement of safety and environmental regulations has allowed unscrupulous operators to strip mines bare, often with devastating consequences for the local community.

A 2007 PBS documentary, China: Undermined, showed how whole villages can be threatened by over-mining, and how villagers who seek to save their community can face brutal retaliation from mine owners in collusion with local officials.