Coltan is a rare and valuable compound found in a small region in eastern Congo. Coltan can be separated into the elements Tantalite and Columbite. Tantalite is used in portable electronic devices such as laptops, cell phones and MP3 players to control the flow of electricity in the circuits. 80% of the world’s reserves of this ore are located in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Coltan is the colloquial African name short for columbite-tantalite, a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in east Congo. Its appearance is a dull black material. When coltan is refined, it becomes metallic tantalum, a heat resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. These properties are essential in creating the electronic elements that control current flow inside miniature circuit boards, such as in laptops, MP3 players, DVD players, game consoles, and cell phones. The main supply of coltan is found in the eastern areas of Congo, as well it can be produced in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, and Egypt. But Congo mines 80% of the world known reserves.

The mining of coltan has caused instability in the Republic of Congo. Many miners lives are put in danger every day. Also the mountain gorilla population has gone down severly in the past decade. In all tha national parks the mountain gorilla popualtion has gone down 90% to 3000.

The mining conditions are harsh, and the miners are often in danger. There are few safety regulations and the mining technology is third-world, similar to such used in the 1800s. There is some evidence that exposure to compound containing tantalum can cause tumors, and the dust from the ore can cause fire or explode. Armed theft and smuggling threatens the lives of miners, and illegal mining can contribute to clear-cutting and environmental damage. Overall, the conditions of mining coltan are far from safe, and the cost of the metal further contributes to unsafe conditions.

coltan.jpg Congos Coltan Mining Video