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In recent years, the demand for cobalt, a crucial component of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for smartphones and electric cars, has been on the increase. Around 60 percent of the world's cobalt supply comes from the mineral-rich Katanga copper belt, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Researchers at KU Leuven (Belgium) and the University of Lubumbashi have now shown that cobalt mining takes a high toll on both the creuseurs—the 'diggers' who work in the mines, often by hand—and on the environment. Previous research by KU Leuven and the University of Lubumbashi (2009) had already found high concentrations of trace metals in the urine of people living close to mines. The new case study, published in Nature Sustainability, confirms the health risks of cobalt mining.
Researchers - Case - Study - Kasulo - Neighbourhood
The researchers conducted a case study in Kasulo, an urban neighbourhood in Kolwezi, in the heart of the Congolese mining area. When cobalt ore was discovered under one of the houses there, the entire area quickly became an artisanal mine. The houses are now interspersed with dozens of mine pits where hundreds of creuseurs hunt for cobalt. Most residents remained in the area.
The major problem is the dust, which contains cobalt and many other metals, including uranium. The dust is released during the mining process and settles on the ground. The researchers collected blood and urine samples from 72 Kasulo residents, including 32 children. A control group with a similar composition was selected in a neighbouring district.
Professor - Nemery - Doctor-toxicologist - KU - Leuven
According to Professor Nemery, a doctor-toxicologist at the KU Leuven Department of Public Health and Primary Care, the results of their study are...
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