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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.

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

    Theo Stroomer

    The San José Mine sits atop a hill with parts of the city of Oruro directly below. The city has a shrinking population of roughly 240,000.

    Darkness envelopes the main entrance of the San José Mine.

    Theo Stroomer
    Theo Stroomer

    Battery packs for headlamps.

    Theo Stroomer

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

    Theo Stroomer
    Theo Stroomer

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

    Theo Stroomer
    Theo Stroomer
    Theo Stroomer

    The Tío Lucacho is a symbol of good luck for the miner, who leave offerings of cigarettes, alcohol, and coca leaf bags.

    Theo Stroomer

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

    Theo Stroomer

    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.

    Theo Stroomer

    A Bolivian miner clenches his leg in pain at the Obreros hospital in Oruro.

    Theo Stroomer

    An x-ray of a miner's internal organs reveals a prognosis of silicosis, a chronic condition in which silica enters the lungs and causes scarring.

    Theo Stroomer

    A Bolivian model smiles during a photo shoot, which will be used to promote the San José Mine mine during Carnival.

    Theo Stroomer

    Richard Villa with his son Junior, 3, outside his home near the mine.

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

    Theo Stroomer

    Heavy drinking is also associated with the holiday as well.

    Water pollution from the mines is rampant and virtually unregulated.

    Theo Stroomer

    The Vasquez family lives on land that was contaminated by toxic mine waste; the Bolivian government claims that it is now safe to inhabit after a cleanup.

    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.

    Theo Stroomer
    Theo Stroomer

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

    Theo Stroomer
    Theo Stroomer

    Surveyors collect information on water pollution near Lake Poopó, which has been severely affected by pollution from the nearby Huanuni mine.

    Theo Stroomer

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

    Theo Stroomer

    Theo Stroomer is a photographer based in Denver, Colorado. To view more of his work, check out his website at http://www.theostroomer.com/.

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