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The Philippines: Risking Lives for Gold

November 15, 2012|

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A miner prepares to enter a compressor mine near the coastal mining area near Peracale. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

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An older miner and a younger boy are chin deep in frigid water 150-meters below the surface as they work a gold mine near Syndicate on the island of Masbate. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

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Compressor mining is the most dangerous form of mining. Young men and older teens slip to the bottom of 40-foot, water-filled shafts to fill sacks of ore. Miners breathe through a plastic tube fed by small compressors on the surface and stay on the bottom to work for up to two hours. Cave-ins are common and usually fatal. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

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A miner negotiates his way toward the bottom of a 300-foot shaft. Miners use bracing timbers as makeshift ladders to climb in and out of the mines. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

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In water almost to his chin, a teenage miner uses a piece of rebar to break off an ore sample at the bottom of a 300-foot mine shaft. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

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A young boy carries bucket of slurry–a thick soup of water and gold ore–to a panning area on the banks of the Guinobatan River. Young men and children use mercury to help separate the gold particles from the slurry. Much of the mercury used to process gold ore is spilled directly into the river. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

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Young miners enter a mining pit at the Panique mining area on Masbate island. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

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Young miners enter a mining pit at the Panique mining area on Masbate island. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

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A young boy pushes a 60-pound sack of gold ore the last few inches out of a mine shaft at the Panique mining area on Masbate island. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

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Near the village of Dalas in the Bicol region of the Philippines. A young boy uses a large steel pan to look for flakes of gold. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

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Workers hand the safety rope emerging from the 30-inch opening of compressor mine near the village of Dalas in the Bicol region of the Philippines. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

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A compressor miner prepares to slip below the surface of the Paracale River to work a dredging area 25-feet below a mining platform in the middle of the river. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

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A miner surfaces after spending an hour at the bottom of a compressor mine near the jungle mining area near Dalas. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

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This miner just emerged from a compressor mine near the village of Dalas. Image by Larry C. Price. Philippines, 2012.

In the coastal areas of the Philippines, much of the clay containing the gold ore is below the water table. This means most mining activity must take place under water. In modern times, successful mining involves cheating the sea with low-tech techniques borrowed from local fisherman.

They call the practice compressor mining. It’s the most deadly gold extraction method on earth and is unique to this part of the Philippines. Compressor mining is considered illegal under Philippine law, but the law is largely ignored.

Miners work underwater, breathing through a slender tube attached to a compressor on the surface--hence the name. Fishermen breathed through tubes such as these for generations, but even in relatively shallow waters, the practice is extremely dangerous. Drownings, accidents and carbon monoxide poisoning from faulty compressors are common.