Side-stepping asbestos worries, mine company scales back sampling plans

2013-12-03T05:30:00Z Side-stepping asbestos worries, mine company scales back sampling plansSTEVEN VERBURG | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6118

A company looking to dig a huge iron mine in far northwest Wisconsin has scaled back its plan for sampling rock in the area to avoid rock containing hazardous asbestos-like fibers.

The state Department of Natural Resources on Monday released Gogebic Taconite’s revised plan for removing tons of rock from the proposed mine site.

After the company submitted its first bulk sampling plan, the DNR asked for more detail. Since then, the agency disclosed the discovery of grunerite rocks in a form that can release fibers like the ones known to cause deadly lung cancer.

Now Gogebic Taconite says it will take two previously proposed sampling sites out of its plan. Questions about how much asbestos-like material is present would wait to be settled when the company files for a permit to begin mining.

“The grunerite issue has been the subject of a media debate and the removal of these areas leaves the debate to be resolved by the systematic and scientific study of the issue that will be required within the permit application,” the revised plan states. “Our position remains that asbestiform material is unlikely to be present in the reserve, but will defer to a proven and methodical approach to address the potential of asbestiform materials in the future mining permit application.”

The plan promises visual inspections at sampling sites to detect grunerite, and also sulphide, which can cause problems of acid drainage from mine sites.

Company spokesman Bob Seitz didn’t return a phone message Monday. DNR officials in charge of the mining project also were unavailable.

The mine project has been divisive, with environmentalists warning that the asbestiform material is dangerous and that mining could release acids that would ruin waterways and wetlands.

The Legislature this year amended state law to limit the extent to which the DNR can review the project, saying that mining jobs were badly needed.

The company originally wanted to remove 4,000 tons of rock from five sites in the Penokee Hills. The company planned to use excavation equipment or explosives. The DNR wanted more details, though.

The new plan calls for removing samples from three sites instead of five using excavation equipment. The company would turn to blasting if it can’t obtain enough materials.

The DNR plans to review the plan and let the company know what permits will be necessary.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(15) Comments

  1. Traderjoe
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    Traderjoe - December 04, 2013 8:40 am
    OK, here goes ...

    ... How many jobs?

    Phase 1- 2800 jobs - 700 direct mining jobs with an avg income of $82,000
    Phase 2 - 5700 jobs - 1400 direct mining jobs with an avg income of $82,000

    ... Who benefits?
    Phase 1
    $604 Million
    Total Annual Economic Impact
    $17.15 Million Annual State/Local Tax Revenue
    Phase 2
    $1.2 Billion
    Total Annual Economic Impact
    $34.3 Million Million Annual State/Local Tax Revenue

    ... Why has Walker hamstrung the DNR permitting process?

    Relaxing unreasonable permit regulations set by radical extremists appointees were actually "hamstringing" and intentionally eliminating new mine permits.

    ... A hundred years from now who will fish, hunt, camp and watch the sunrise ?
    Thousands more than today because the flight of young people out of the region in search of game employment will end and new families in search of a better sustainable lifestyle will also be drawn there. This area has historically been mined for decades yet still is described as pure and pristine by most everyone.

    Who will drink the arsenic and acid laden water and breath the fouled air?

    Those same thousands of people will enjoy the same water and air quality as today. The new law prohibits off-site acid mine drainage which can occur when sulfides leach out of waste rock piled at a mining site. All environmental regulations set by the EPA still remain unchanged .

    ... Who will stand up and answer these questions?

    I just answered them all.

    Since you are from southern Wisconsin (let me guess, Madison) I understand how you can have so many un answered questions. You really need to get out of that liberal bubble you live in and explore the Real World .

  2. Traderjoe
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    Traderjoe - December 04, 2013 5:30 am
    A comment from your respected Geologist.

    "Fitz agrees they need to find out more about this formation.

    "There's reason to believe that this is hazardous. GTAC agrees with this and everybody agrees there needs to be more studies on this. Really what isn't determined at all yet is the extent of this stuff. How far east and west does it go along the [Penokee] ridge."
  3. GodHeals
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    GodHeals - December 03, 2013 3:45 pm

    U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration faces training and oversight problems
    Mourners pray for victims of mine blast
    About 50 mourners gathered Tuesday at a small West Virginia church a few miles from the site of a deadly mine explosion to remember the 25 victims and pray for four missing miners.

    Network News
    X Profile
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    By Ed O'Keefe
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    The federal government's mine safety agency is not properly tracking the retraining of its veteran inspectors and is facing a mounting backlog of appeals of health and safety violations from mining companies, according to concerned government auditors and lawmakers...... A little over half of MSHA's roughly 2,400 employees perform inspections of the nation's coal mines, gravel pits, quarries and gold and silver mines, the agency said. Hundreds of new inspectors have joined the payroll since the Sago blast, expanding MSHA's inspection force by more than 26 percent.

    But a government audit released last week faulted the agency for poorly retraining its veteran inspectors. Fifty-six percent of them failed to attend required retraining courses during a two-year training cycle that started in 2006, the audit said. MSHA failed to track and ensure completion of retraining courses and did not punish inspectors who failed to attend courses, according to the report by the Labor Department inspector general. MSHA is part of the Labor Department. "
  4. witness2012
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    witness2012 - December 03, 2013 10:52 am
    Add one more question, Hercules.

    How much will the state pay in litigation fees over this mine when they are sued by the EPA for violating the treaty rights of the Bad River Ojibwas whose wild rice beds are just downstream of the proposed mine? There will also be other likely lawsuits filed by environmental organizations over the potential pollution of the watershed.

    Maybe, it is just factored in as overhead by the state. But, the lawsuits will happen.
  5. Prawo Jazdy
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    Prawo Jazdy - December 03, 2013 8:42 am
    Here's another interesting question: Where will the iron from the mine actually go? Probably China. So Wisconsin may get a few jobs for a few years, will certainly get a big pile of toxic waste in some form, all to keep the Chinese steel mills running. There's a good deal!
  6. 196ski
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    196ski - December 03, 2013 8:34 am
    There are no OSHA regulations involving people who would be working in this mine. This mine will fall under the Mine Safety and Health Administration which is much more strict concerning worker safety and health than OSHA.

    Workers are given yearly pulmonary function exams and hearing tests. At one time chest X-rays were mandatory annually and read by a certified B reader but I believe that employees can now opt out of that test. Ironically, most smokers do not want chest X-rays. Any excursions on tests given must be reported to MSHA as a Recordable Incident. Mining facilities that fall under MSHA jurisdiction are required by law to be inspected twice annually for safety violations. In large facilities these inspections can range in length from 2 to 3 weeks. Additionally employees are monitored for exposure to airborne particulate matter PM10 and any crystalline silicate exposures. Unlike OSHA which permits personal protective equipment to act as a barrier to a known airborne hazard, MSHA requires by Federal Statute that exposure testing be done as though no dust masks or other PPE are worn. Mine operators MUST create a work environment that does not expose workers to hazards.

    There is more but that's the quick review. Mining, even above ground, is dangerous work and MSHA takes its role as a regulator very seriously. I used to work as a project engineer for a mining company and regardless of whether you approve or not of mining activities, it is very well regulated industry. I am currently not affiliated with any mining industry.
  7. davea
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    davea - December 03, 2013 8:03 am
    Just a side note: What are OSHA regulations involving people who would be working in this asbestos environment?
  8. Observer5
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    Observer5 - December 03, 2013 7:18 am
    Limit sampling to avoid asbestos release. Yeah, let's wait until the mine starts operation and releases the stuff in massive quantities. Then it will be too late to stop the contamination. That's the ticket.
  9. JUST US
    Report Abuse
    JUST US - December 03, 2013 6:10 am
    Walker will write a book about the mine and how he fought hard against the mine because of the environmental harm that it would create. Yet, he signed the bill with the language in it that said harm to the environment was expected and necessary. In his book he'll declare that God spoke to him about the mine harming His creations in Wisconsin. But that the people of Wisconsin demanded the mine to create thousands of jobs in an economically depressed state due to Doyle and Obama!
  10. Hercules
    Report Abuse
    Hercules - December 03, 2013 4:40 am
    These questions need to be answered:

    -- Wisconsin taxpayers are spending how much money to create how many jobs?

    -- Wisconsin citizens are being submitted to how much environmental harm to create how many jobs?
    -- Who benefits? Is it Walker and company and the mining company at the exclusion of any benefit to the rest of Wisconsin?
    -- Why has Walker and his legislature hamstrung the DNR in its permitting process?
    -- A hundred years from now, who will fish, hunt, camp, watch the sunrise and sunset in this land of Northern Wisconsin?
    -- Who will drink the arsenic and acid by-product of this mine, and who will breathe the fouled air?
    -- Who in Northern Wisconsin will stand up and ask and answer these questions and tell us down here to butt out, and, having asked these questions, and gotten real answers, tell the rest of us what you believe?
    -- After all, these are really more your questions than ours. From Southern Wisconsin, I wish you all the luck in the world. This whole business, thanks to a fading lack of democracy down here, is getting to be like a Mack Truck on an 11% grade with no brakes and miles to go before a most dangerous outcome.
  11. witness2012
    Report Abuse
    witness2012 - December 02, 2013 11:04 pm
    I hope the DNR can see through this subterfuge. Despite respected geologists already publicly showing samples of the grunerite (asbestiform) that are prevalent around the mining site and pyrite, which will leech sulfides into the watershed, GTAC continues to minimize their presence and what their effect will be.

    Now, they are asking permission to cherry-pick data for the bulk samples to minimize the finding of grunerite by excluding the bulk sample sites where it is most evident. What do they hope to do here?

    If they get to choose the areas they sample and skip sections which show significant deposits of asbestiform and pyrite, how is it it representative? When they mine, they will include the areas that they are now purposely excluding and the people in the area will suffer the consequences of the release of asbestos and the destruction of the watershed.

    This is so irresponsible it is difficult to believe that they could expect any agency to swallow it and their logic.
  12. GodHeals
    Report Abuse
    GodHeals - December 02, 2013 9:16 pm
    If you can smell the devil now you deserve hell.
  13. humidity
    Report Abuse
    humidity - December 02, 2013 8:26 pm
    Wisconsin law does not deny felons permission to operate a mine, so whats the problem?
  14. G Gordon
    Report Abuse
    G Gordon - December 02, 2013 7:23 pm
    There will be no mine.
  15. ShoePolishHead
    Report Abuse
    ShoePolishHead - December 02, 2013 6:47 pm
    This mine WILL be Walker's legacy.

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