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Juan Karita, Associated Press
Tin miners cross a bridge Thursday over a river in Bolivia's Oruro mining town, which contains contaminated waters coming from the nearby Huanuni Mine.

HUANUNI, Bolivia — Deep under the Andes' treeless moonscape, Bolivian miners wielding hammers, chisels, wheelbarrows and dynamite are chasing a 21st century global mineral boom.

But the conditions in which they work are largely unimproved since the 19th century — and record profits have done little to improve their lot.

The antiquated methods used by Bolivia's 60,000 independent miners hide a ruthless efficiency. Teenage miners pick the mountains clean by hand, scraping rapidly diminishing veins for tiny crumbs of ore a more mechanized system would pass over.

No one counts the deaths or injuries. No fines are issued for the tailings now suffocating the arid region's few rivers and lakes. And every penny goes home to the families of South America's poorest country.

But in the frenetic push to cash in while silver, tin, and zinc prices remain high, none of the windfall is being spent on improving working conditions or controlling pollution. And as President Evo Morales has pushed to exert greater state control over the sector, miners used to decades without regulation are pushing back — willing to trade their lungs, and even their lives, for their piece of the boom.