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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about...the California Gold Rush and mining.


KNOY: Slumgullion, Mugfuzzle Flat, and Hell's Delight are not imaginary places in a Lewis Carroll poem. They're the names of some of the first California gold mines. The California Gold Rush got underway 150 years ago this month. Sawmill worker James Marshall stepped outside one morning, bent down to shut off the water, and saw a sparkle in the gravel. The rush was on. Over the next several years homes emptied, mills were abandoned, and crops were left to rot as tens of thousands of prospectors descended upon northern California to seek their fortune. The population boom was so great that California qualified for statehood. Today, the US is second only to South Africa in gold production, mining more than 10 million ounces a year. Eighty percent of the take goes into jewelry and dentists fill our teeth with about 13 tons of the metal each year. But the cost of gold isn't measured in dollars alone. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, hard rock mining creates twice as much solid waste as all other American industries combined. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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