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Published: 2020-10-16

Health consequences if mine opens

NEWS In the Arctic there is a lot of natural resources and they are important for us who live here and for outside companies. Due to increased global demand for natural resources there is a risk of overexploitation. According to Swedish law, environmental impact must be assessed before opening a mine, but health effects are not assessed. In Kallak outside of Jokkmokk the opening of a mine come into question, and the potential health effects are documented in a new report.

Text: Anngelica Kristoferqvist

Arcum affiliates Hanna Blåhed and Miguel San Sebastián have in the recently published report Minding health or mining wealth" - A health impact assessment due to the potential mining establishment in Gállok/ Kallak, Swedish Sápmi described health consequences due to a potential mining establishment in Kallak.

The main author Hanna Blåhed says it has been rewarding to work with this report. “We have had the opportunity to talk to a group of people who often may not be questioned about health in combination with various extraction projects. We also had the opportunity to use an evaluation tool that both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Swedish Public Health Agency recommend: Health Impact Assessment (HIA).” 

Health impact assessment is a method consisting of five steps, and the qualitative step was conducted by in-depth interviews with six members from the Sami village Jåhkågasska tjiellde in Jokkmokk municipality. The purpose is to capture current and potential future health experiences due to the proposed mine. Since the method is considered a systematic and transparent tool, the authors feel confident with the results of the study.

Collaboration has been vital in conducting the study. “It has been enriching to be able to collaborate with the Swedish Sami National Association (SSR) and Jåhkågasska tjiellde Sami village, where the Sami village has been crucial for this study. We have also had the opportunity to discuss our enquiries with several experts regarding the situation in Gállok/Kallak, and we are very grateful for all the help and support we received during this process.”, says Hanna Blåhed.

The results show that plans for a mine in Kallak have already caused negative psychosocial health effects, such as anxiety, stress and anxiety, in Jåhkågasska tjiellde. These results were unexpected since the method is considered to be future-oriented. Uncertainty about decisions, long waits and fear of losing one's livelihood, and then also the livelihood of future generation, contribute to deteriorating mental health, now and in the future.

"The situation has generated a lot of stress, worry and anxiety among the reindeer herders and their families, and it is surprising that this never been documented before."

Hanna Blåhed is surprised that the health consequences of establishing a mine have not been studied before. “The situation in Gállok /Kallak has generated a lot of stress, anxiety and worry among reindeer herders and their families, and still does. It surprised us is that this has not been documented before. As far as we know, there is neither a HIA in relation to the Sami in Sweden nor a HIA in relation to extraction projects in Sweden. In the environmental impact statement made with Gállok/Kallak, health effects are described marginally: only in relation to noise, dust and vibrations. We have defined health as effects on both physical and mental health, and our results show that if a mine is opened, it can have devastating consequences on people's mental health.”, says Hanna Blåhed.

The report presents four recommendations; that in the future, health impact assessment should become practice in development projects, and investigate and monitor both current and future health effects. The authors also believe that health impact assessment should have the same weight in decision-making as the statutory environmental impact assessment, and that support to prevent mental illness should be offered at the beginning of each development project.

Link to the report (in Swedish)

Lunch webinar

On November 25, a webinar will be held by Hanna Blåhed and Miguel San Sebastián, where they present the recently published report.
Health consequences of a mining project in Sápmi
Time 12:00 - 13:00
Place Online: ZOOM