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Local View: A toxic waste dump is ready to happen in paradise

From the column: "A Talon Metals nickel-sulfide mine is being planned that could destroy the wild rice fields, paddling and boating, hiking, farming, hunting and fishing, and all the ways we benefit from and enjoy the land."

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In this undated photo, geologists from Talon Metals observe core samples from the Tamarack Nickel Project.
Photo courtesy of Talon Metals
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As a physician and mother, I appreciate health and wellness. I appreciate the good life. What does that mean, in a place of environmental abundance such as Northeastern Minnesota?

It means clean air and water and being able to live in a green place with abundant plant and animal life. A place where the air and water will not give you birth defects, respiratory illnesses, cancer, heart disease, or liver disease and will not worsen neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. A place where our children and their children can thrive rather than look around in horror at what we created for short-term financial gain.

I am the mother of an autistic son who was poisoned with methylmercury contamination and whose brain has never recovered. I don’t ever want this for your children and grandchildren — or your community.

A paradise exists in Aitkin County, an inland lake region where a Talon Metals nickel-sulfide mine is being planned that could destroy the wild rice fields, paddling and boating, hiking, farming, hunting and fishing, and all the ways we benefit from and enjoy the land. It is in danger right now with short-term plans to create jobs at a price we cannot afford to pay with our future health — personal, economic, and environmental.

Experts have weighed in about how sulfides that oxidize in water and air to other toxic chemicals not only do their own damage but may release toxic methylmercury and other chemicals that would harm and kill people, fish, animals, and plants that depend on clean water. Any waters contaminated affect all life downstream.

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I feel a toxic mess is being proposed in Aitkin County, and it will take all of us to stop a tragedy. Your help is needed.

In Indonesia, which has rich deposits of nickel, nickel-sulfide mines contaminate water with a well-recognized cancer-causing chemical called hexavalent chromium. Waters flowing from the mine site are orange in color and toxic. People are sickened in large numbers. Profits to be made in isolated regions are more easily concealed from public scrutiny.

In the abundance we often take for granted, we may not have direct experience with toxic waste dumps caused by mining. Traveling to mining areas such as upstate New York and Virginia gives us some idea of what this looks like. Water you can’t put in or on your body. Areas where nothing lives. Mountains of black or gray tailings where nothing lives.

Mining is often romanticized, and resources are extracted deep in the ground where no one sees the destruction. Mine workers and communities suffer respiratory illnesses and assorted cancers that the owners of the mines will not.

The nickel sulfide mine being planned in Aitkin County in Northeastern Minnesota, in your local backyard, could be immediately devastating. And in a few years the company could be gone after its profits are made and the metals are extracted — and our land is scarred and toxic, possibly forever. Nothing growing. The health and well-being the land and waters provided could be gone. Gone. We don’t need to let this happen.

Lucille Marchand of Madison, Wisconsin, is a physician and mother who vacations in Minnesota. Her sources for this commentary included the Guardian and the anti-mining nonprofit WaterLegacy.

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Lucille Marchand

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