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Deadly Asbestos Could Kill Gogebic’s Iron Ore Mine Project

A July 2, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources letter regarding Gogebic Taconite's proposed mine sampling has cited the potential of asbestos.

A Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) letter to Gogebic Taconite regarding their proposed open pit iron ore mine sampling activities has raised the specter of a particularly nasty form of asbestos.

The WDNR July 2 letter cited the documented occurrence of asbestiform minerals (amphiboles of the cummingtonite-grunerite) series in similar ore bodies in Minnesota, and reports of similar minerals near Gogebic’s proposed bulk sampling activity.

It will be necessary to evaluate the bulk sampling activity to determine whether regulation pertaining to control of asbestos emissions under Chapters NR 445 or NR 447, Wis. Adm. Code, is required, the WDNR said. Furthermore, if minerals in an asbestiform habit are present or potentially present in the excavated material some of the total emissions would likely be asbestos emissions.

The National Academy of Sciences cites grunerite as one of the most toxic forms of asbestos.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to amphibole asbestos is primarily associated with mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of the lungs that has occurred after exposure at quite low concentrations.

In their July 27 response to the WDNR letter, Gogebic stated, “NR 445 does not apply to the proposed bulk sampling activities because asbestiform minerals are not likely to be present in the Gogebic Iron Range near Mellen, Wisconsin. There are documented occurrences of amphibole minerals in the geology of this area but not all amphibole minerals are asbestiform minerals or asbestos.

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“NR 447 does not apply to the Bulk Sampling Plan,” Gogebic wrote. “Asbestosis defined in NR 447.02 as “Asbestos” means the asbestiform varieties of serpentinite (chrysotile), riebeckite (crocidolite), cummingtonite−grunerite (amosite), anthophyllite and actinolite−tremolite … asbestiform minerals are not likely to be present in the Gogebic Iron Range near Mellen, Wisconsin based on similar geology in Minnesota where studies have been conducted and asbestiform minerals have not been found. Therefore, NR 447 does not apply to the Bulk Sampling Plan.”

Yet according to the Wisconsin Geological Survey, grunerite is a widespread contact metamorphic mineral in the Ironwood Iron Formation around mafic (a silicate mineral) intrusions.

“They claim there is no asbestos,” said Wisconsin resident Joseph Skulan, Ph.D., a geochemist until last May with UW-Geology Museum and now a research professor at the University of Arizona. “Their response is a lie or it indicates scientific incompetence. This should kill the mine.”

Bob Seitz, GTAC’s Manager of External Affairs did not return Indian Country Today Media Networks’ call. GTAC’s website is also unavailable.

Seitz told the Wisconsin State-JournalJuly 31 they might not need explosives to obtain rock samples when rock conducting sampling. The company hopes to gather rock debris from four previously blasted sites using heavy equipment. If that doesn’t produce enough rock, the company plans to blast those sites and another by igniting a volatile mixture of fertilizer and diesel fuel in hundreds of 4-inch by 10-foot holes, the report said.

RELATED: Bulk Sampling Proposed for GTAC, Public Hearing August 15

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