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A Dark And Harrowing Journey Into A Bolivian Mine

Photographer Theo Stroomer investigates the treacherous gold, silver, and lead mines of Bolivia.

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Mining represents a Devil’s bargain for Bolivia, providing the miners subsistence in return for their health and severe damage to the environment.


Miners generally smoke, chew coca, and drink alcohol before beginning work in the mine.


They don't have regular access to machinery; most of what the miners collect comes from pounding and searching.


During a typical shift they will work for 8-12 hours in the dark underground.


The average life span of a miner is 40, with millions of Bolivian men sacrificing their lives to pull rock from the earth. Still, Bolivia remains the poorest country in South America.


Miners sacrifice a llama during the C'halla holiday for good fortune during the coming year.


Water pollution from the mines is rampant and virtually unregulated.

Theo Stroomer

Working outside the mine, Emma Calpio collects rocks containing trace amounts of silver, lead, and tin. Miners discard much of what they extract from the mine, polluting nearby water sources. Occasionally they miss something valuable.


Garbage dumped from the Huanuni mine flows south, collecting along the riverbed in communities downstream.


The area has been declared an environmental disaster region and the government is beginning efforts to clean it up.

Theo Stroomer is a photographer based in Denver, Colorado. To view more of his work, check out his website at

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