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Discovered high in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, the San Cristobal mine ranks as one of the largest deposits of zinc, lead and silver in the world. The mineral quality and abundance was certain in this mine, but its remote location — more than 12,000 feet above sea level — presented significant hurdles in creating a successful mining operation. What originally started as an investment with an international joint partner in the Bolivian mine, resulted in Sumitomo assuming the entire investment and operations when its partner exited the project.
The challenge of the remote location meant we would need to help establish an efficient extraction program, meet the technical, environmental and transportation challenges, and once the metals are extracted and refined, handle global marketing. Logistics and transportation expertise was also required, since the minerals after being mined and processed needed to cross out of Bolivia into Chilean ports for shipment overseas. To help facilitate approvals of important permits and licenses, our management team Minera San Cristobal (MSC), built solid relationships with different Bolivian stakeholders. We provided engineering and technical support to modify and expand daily operations at the mine, and located and procured important supplies, materials and equipment as needed. In the interest of safety and sustainability, the local community also needed educational and infrastructure development for its residents, as part of the plan.
Investing in the community is very important because it directly benefits the surrounding communities in the regions where we operate. We financed the construction of social infrastructure in the form of hospitals, schools, homes and potable water projects and gained local support from indigenous communities. We also built and financed a training center for the local people to learn skills for employment.
Protecting the environment and safety of employees are always a high priority at San Cristobal. To minimize particulate pollution and improve air quality in that area, we constructed a geodesic dome to cover the ore stockpiled from mining operations 160 feet high; the dome is now the largest structure of its kind in South America. MSC is one of the only mining operations to have earned triple certifications (ISO9001; ISO14001; and OSHAS 18001) covering management, environmental systems, and health & safety.
Today, MSC is operating at full capacity and has established itself as a consistently reliable source of quality mineral resources. The mine produces approximately 1,300 metric tons/day of zinc-silver concentrates and 300 metric tons/day of lead-silver concentrates, attaining an estimated annual output volume of 600,000 tons of concentrates.
This production rate requires the daily moving of 150,000 tons of rock, of which 40,000 tons of ore grade are transported to the concentration plant for treatment. As one of the largest mines of its kind in the world, its raw materials are found in everything from automobiles to construction materials to ships to electronic components.