The 2012 London Olympics are just a few short months away, and being no stranger to controversy, it is already facing criticism over the sourcing of metals for its iconic medals. With the slogan “Don’t let Rio Tinto tarnish the Olympic Games,” protesters and union representatives at the annual meeting of the London-based sponsor claimed that metal giant creates “life-threatening” air and water pollution with their mining endeavors around the globe. Protestors also accused the company of mistreating workers, driving pay below a living-wage.

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Bingham Mine, Mining Utah, Copper Mine, Rio Tinto, Mining Pollution, London Olympics Rio Tinto Mine in Utah, Image by Spmusick, via Wikimedia Commons

The Guardian reports that Rio Tinto is providing eight tonnes of gold, silver and bronze from mines in Utah and Mongolia to make the 4,700 medals that will be used for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Metal mining is widely known to have a significant environmental impact, with high emissions and risks of toxins seeping into groundwater. Occupational Knowledge (who were not involved in the protests) cite that global releases of lead from the smelting and refining of nonferrous metals — the kinds typically used in Olympic medals — total over 28,000 metric tons per year.

Greenwash Gold, founded by Meredith Alexander, the former commissioner of the London 2012 sustainability campaign, lists a litany of abuses committed by Rio Tinto and highlights the impact of their Utah operations. “Bingham Canyon… contributes to hundreds of premature deaths each year in the Salt Lake City area.” With plans to expand in the area and with the Oyu Tolgoi mine, Greenwash Gold believes that the “mine will use enormous quantities of water in a desert region,” adding that campaigners in Utah accuse Rio Tinto of poor planning and a lack of transparency.

Union representatives are also protesting Rio Tinto. Canada’s United Steelworkers union reportedly wants to see Rio Tinto dropped as an Olympic sponsor due to their lockout of 800 workers at the Quebec Aluminium project, where seasoned workers were replaced by half-price contractors. Campaign conveyer Joe Drexler told the AFP “The Olympics are supposed to promote the idea of fair play and the idea of solidarity,” as Real Valiquette, spokesman for the locked out miners added “You cannot be a company that sponsors Olympic medals and do this to people.”

Via The Guardian, AFP

Lead image (cc) p_a_h on Flickr