In Congo, an estimated two million artisanal miners account for as much of 90% of the country’s mineral exports. The Washington Post’s Stephanie McCrummen reports on how this unofficial economy works:

The diggers usually work in groups of three, heaving out bags of ore. The haphazard tunneling undermines the stability of the earth above, which often collapses. Every week, about 10 miners die in accidents, provincial officials said.

[Freelance miner Innocent] Luamba’s three-man team can produce perhaps two 220-pound sacks of copper ore a day, a bounty quickly consumed by a slew of dubious taxes, fees and prices.

After those costs, each miner ends the day with about $4, perhaps a fifth of the value of one 220-pound sack. The going rate for a decent loaf of bread is $1.50.

A middleman sells the ore to buyers such as Daniel Tam, a British citizen from Hong Kong who declined to give his company’s name. Though he has his own mining concession, Tam said he buys only from diggers working other spots, “because it is cheaper.” With a single phone call, he can find a buyer abroad.

“The Chinese, the Indians, the South Africans,” he said, naming all the buyers. “The selling is easy.”

The diggers are not the only ones suffering in such transactions. Congo is also losing out on taxes and jobs as the less-valuable raw ore is hauled out of the country before being processed into a final product worth four times as much.

Congo’s government is trying to build a modern, mechanized industry to extract copper and cobalt, but it’s a difficult transition given how entrenched the artisanal mining system is. Crews hired by foreign mining companies often arrive at their new concessions and find thousands of diggers already there – which in some cases leads to riots, or growing militancy among diggers who’ve been chased from sites they feel they have a might to mine.

In other news:

Salt Lake Tribune: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is examining whether current OSHA penalties are strong enough to correct workplace safety problems.

Reuters India: A study of blood samples from men in the U.S. military, published in the Journal of National Cancer Institute, reports that a chemical that comes from the pesticide DDT may raise men’s risk of developing testicular cancer.

Washington Post: Some veterans returning from Iraq find that the GI Bill falls short in providing them with educational opportunities.

Washington Post: Three former DC government employees say they were fired for blowing the whistle on illegal and unethical behavior and hazardous conditions.

Boston Globe (editorial): There’s an acute need for paid leave, and New Jersey’s paid-leave law (passed by the legislature and expected to be signed by the Governor) is a promising plan. The state will need to be vigilant about fraud and abuse, and ensure the system’s financial soundness.