London will soon host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, which organizers are already touting as the "the most sustainable Games ever." However, despite the promises for a carbon-neutral, low impact event that won London this year's Olympic bid, the competitor medals are sourced from a mining company with a questionable track record of violating environmental standards. This year's medals, the largest and heaviest in Olympic history, will be made almost entirely from raw materials extracted and smelted at Salt Lake City's Kennecott Mine, owned by the giant mining corporation Rio Tinto.
Stretching 3.22 kilometers wide and 1.2 kilometers deep, Kennecott is said to be the largest man-made hole on the planet and has produced more copper than any other mine in history. Rio Tinto makes claims of responsible and sustainable practices in the 40 countries it operates in worldwide. However, the vast amount of waste generated at its Utah mine has made it the single largest industrial polluter in the Salt Lake City basin, and has largely contributed to the region's total overall air pollution. A coalition of environmental, health and advocacy groups have even accused Rio Tinto of long ignoring emission standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a part of the US Clean Air Act. They've filed a federal lawsuit in the Utah courts demanding that Rio Tinto be held accountable for their excessive pollution in the valley.
Watch Al Jazeera's investigation into Rio Tinto's egregious violations of environmental standards here.
As the official mining and metals provider for the games, Rio Tinto is contractually bound to the London Organising Committee's (LOCOG) Sustainable Sourcing Code. This set of guidelines holds suppliers to strict environmental and ethical standards in an effort to make this year's event the "greenest games ever". Yet while (LOCOG) has admitted to being aware of the charges against Rio Tinto's operations in Utah, the entity took no further steps towards challenging the company's sustainability credentials. In response, the United Steelworker's has launched a global campaign demanding that Olympic organizers cut ties with this irresponsible company.
With a little over two weeks to go until the London 2012 Olympics, it's too late for this year's medals, but we can still fight to ensure that 2016's greatest athletes can stand on the podium with pride, sporting medals untarnished by environmental harms. In the spirit of the Olympics, the global community must come together to demand that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) hold Rio Tinto accountable for their irresponsible mining practices. In order to salvage its tarnished reputation and truly live up to its green standards, IOC must commit to sourcing medals from a more sustainable company for future Games.