In Response: 'There is good reason to be concerned about sulfide mining'
From the column: "Politicians need to protect our property values, tax dollars, wetlands, and vacation lakes in Aitkin County."
Rep. Dale Lueck suggested in his July 6 commentary in the News Tribune that there is nothing to fear regarding mining in Minnesota since there are “extensive environmental-review and permitting processes” in place in our state. It seems clear Lueck does not know his chemistry. Nor does he seem to understand that Minnesota’s regulatory agencies are sorely lacking in their role to protect the environment.
(Lueck’s “In Response” column was headlined, “When it comes to mining safely, this is Minnesota, not Indonesia.”)
One only has to remember the embarrassing seven years it took to get Reserve Mining to stop dumping toxic tailings into Lake Superior, poisoning Duluth drinking water with asbestos particles. It required intervention by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to get Reserve Mining to clean up its act. Minnesota’s regulatory agencies did little to protect the people.
More recently, we can read about the debacle with PolyMet, where the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency was accused of withholding EPA comments on the PolyMet sulfide mine permit, in effect creating irregularities in procedure and destroying notes and official records stating major concerns with the PolyMet permit.
There additionally are examples of the MPCA and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources seemingly protecting the financial needs of mining instead of looking out for the needs of the people of Minnesota to a healthy and clean environment.
There is good reason to be concerned about sulfide mining planned by Talon Metals.
Sen. Lueck, R-Aitkin, seems to confuse iron ore mining with sulfide mining. Sulfide mining can be many times more toxic to the environment and human health. When sulfide ores are exposed to air and water, sulfuric acid is created. This can migrate into the environment and leach heavy metals into the soil, water, and air present in the waste rock, pit walls, and tailings basins. It can seep into rich aquifers below and into lakes at levels that are toxic to wild rice, fish, and wildlife. The chemical reaction of sulfide ore/tailings to sulfuric acid can happen over long periods of time, even 500 to 1,000 years. Once sulfuric acid is released, it cannot be cleaned up.
Since Aitkin County is huge and abundant with wetlands and the headwaters of the Mississippi River and St. Croix watershed, many communities — including Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth — could eventually be affected should acid mine drainage happen there.
Talon Metals, in its Preliminary Economic Assessment, proposes to establish an underground mine with a 75-acre, 82-foot-tall, covered sulfide tailings pile that likely would require taxpayer dollars to maintain in perpetuity. Talon also plans to pump 2.6 million gallons of water from the aquifers per day. Where will the company put all this untreated water?
Finally, there is no plan in its assessment to filter any high-sulfide dust vented from its underground mining stacks or to mitigate windborne high-sulfide dust from its tailings pile.
These are serious concerns, and politicians need to protect our property values, tax dollars, wetlands, and vacation lakes in Aitkin County.
Broadly speaking, compared to tourism, mining is a small percentage of Minnesota’s state income, as a 2018 MinnPost article stated: “Mining is directly responsible for about 0.2 percent of Minnesota’s jobs and less than 3 percent of its economic output.”
It is not OK to jeopardize health or tourism for sulfide mining.
Lynn Anderson of Round Lake and Tamarack, Minnesota, is a volunteer for the Tamarack Water Alliance.