Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network
Red de apoyo sobre salud ocupacional en las maquiladoras
Contact: Garrett Brown: 510-558-1014 or 510-622-2913
Grupo Mexico Deliberately Misses the Point
“Grupo Mexico’s response to our health and safety report at the Cananea mine deliberately misses the point and the facts of the case. Mine workers are clearly over-exposed to toxic silica dust inside the fully-enclosed processing plant buildings where the ore is crushed and pulverized not at the open-pit mine,” declared Garrett Brown, Coordinator of the MHSSN study and a Certified Industrial Hygienist with the state of California.
“It is in the Concentrator buildings a series of large, totally enclosed buildings where mine workers have exposures at least 10 times the Mexican government’s legal limit to very fine silica dust, which is a known human carcinogen as well as the cause of silicosis,” Brown stated. “Grupo Mexico is deliberately misrepresenting our study, done by Mexican and U.S. occupational health professionals who donated 100% of their time to complete it.”
“In addition to the severe silica dust hazards, there are literally dozens of other safety hazards on site both in the mine itself and in the processing plants, which we described in detail and also provided photographs,” Brown noted. The study team also documented, through lung function testing and a review of worker x-rays, that mine workers in Cananea have a higher than expected level of adverse respiratory symptoms arising from exposures at work.
“If Grupo Mexico is so proud of the conditions at the Cananea mine and its processing plants, then it should accept the proposal made on November 13th to Mexico’s Secretary of Labor, Javier Lozano Alarcón, that the Secretary head a tripartite, fact-finding commission to establish exactly what are working conditions in the country’s largest copper mine,” Brown pointed out.
On November 14th, the MHSSN received a letter from STPS Sub-Secretary Dr. Alvaro Castro Estrada declaring that MHSSN study was not “legally valid” because it was not conducted by the STPS and was completed while the mine is on strike.
“The serious health and safety hazards to the Cananea miners continue to exist, regardless of the technicalities of the Labor Law, so we urge the STPS to fulfill its duties to protect the health of Mexican workers in Cananea,” Brown stated. “The STPS should start now to prepare a comprehensive inspection of the Cananea mine and processing plants to occur as soon as the mine reopens after the strike.”
“Moreover, because of the dispute regarding the facts of our report and the actual conditions at the mine, we again request the Secretary of Labor form a tripartite fact-finding commission to conduct an on-site inspection of the mine and processing plants,” Brown said.
Because such a fact-finding commission must have credibility with the miners and with the growing number of international bodies concerned about conditions in Cananea, the commission should include participants who enjoy the confidence of the miners and the international community. Therefore, the commission should include representatives from the Mexican Department of Labor, Grupo Mexico, the Mexican Mine Workers union, the U.S. United Steel Workers union, the International Metalworkers Federation, and occupational health professionals from the MHSSN.
During the last STPS inspection in Cananea in April 2007, health and safety inspectors issued a report with 72 required corrective actions, including re-assembling disconnected dust collectors in the Concentrator buildings, repairing malfunctioning brakes on a 10-ton and a 15-ton crane in the Concentrator, and undertaking a massive clean-up of settled silica dust throughout the facility.
In terms of worker exposures at the mine itself, sampling data from drillers and equipment operators in the pit was not available and was not the subject of this report. However, it is well known that worker over-exposure to toxic dusts of various types, including silica, can and does occur in open pit mines throughout the world.
English and Spanish versions of the study report, including photographs of workplace hazards, are posted on the MHSSN website: