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Economy

Boom, bust, boom: a story about copper and the price we pay for it

Quincy Mine near Hancock, Michigan back in the day
Don...The UpNorth Memories Guy... Harrison
/
Flickr

Copper.

Its use in our lives is astounding, and so is the cost of mining it. When Bill Carter moved to Bisbee, Arizona, he found himself directly affected by the mining history in the town.

And so he wrote “Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, The Metal That Runs The World.” The book comes from his firsthand experience with the effects of living in a copper-mining town.

Carter calls copper the invisible metal. We hear a lot about gold, aluminum, and iron. But the 400 pounds of copper in our homes, 9,000 pounds in airplanes, and 50 pounds in our cars, is overlooked as it “runs modern civilization.”

The copper industry used to be huge in Michigan, but once the resource was exhausted, the companies moved to Arizona. When Carter moved to Bisbee, he knew that the town had a history of copper mining, but didn’t think much of it at the time. It wasn’t until after he fell ill from arsenic and lead poisoning from the vegetables he grew in his backyard that he realized how much copper affected him, his family, and his whole community.

A mining company at that time had just started reclaiming properties, testing the soil, and changing the soil if it was polluted. Carter applied to have his soil tested and the results showed high levels of arsenic and lead.

Carter said in the last five years, almost every home’s topsoil in the town has been replaced. The pollution came from an old smelting factory. He then realized that the metals we don’t see, coming from places like the smelter, do not go away. And he argues it should be something to think about when copper-mining companies come to town.

“It is going to pollute your area, whether you like it or not, or whether they’re very good at their job or not, it’s going to happen,” he said.

*Listen to the full interview above.

–Bre’Anna Tinsley, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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