By LeRoger Lind, President of Save Lake Superior Association
Clear, cold, clean—are words that come to mind when thinking of the water and air around Lake Superior. Mining activities along the North Shore of Lake Superior are unfortunately changing the cleanliness of the air and water. Asbestos fibers are being released into the air and water as the result of crushing ore at a taconite processing plant along the North Shore of Lake Superior in Silver Bay. The levels being released at the North Shore Mining Company have been found to be in violation of permit requirements and the Clean Air Act.
Taconite, an iron-bearing rock is ground into a fine powder to extract the iron. The mineral fibers produced by the mining and grinding of taconite and sulfuric hard rock ores include asbestos fibers among other harmful but less toxic fibers. Today’s technology of air particle monitors, fiber sample analysis equipment and fiber identification science has confirmed the presence of the class of asbestos fibers that causes health problems in the air and water surrounding the mines and plants.
Save Lake Superior Association and Sierra Club have filed a complaint in Federal Court to challenge the emissions at the Silver Bay plant. An appeal is still pending. As the situation currently stands, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will continue to regulate the emissions of these fibers at or below the levels to which other Minnesotan’s are exposed in non-mining communities. This is a unique standard for asbestos control and should serve as a model for protecting public health in other communities near similar processing plants and mines.
Save Lake Superior Association is hopeful that our efforts will bring fiber levels into compliance and if it prevents even one person from getting sick this action will be worth while.
Last year, the University of Minnesota took over a research project initiated by the Minnesota Department of Public Health to look for the causes of lung disease found near the taconite mines by evaluating the health of past and current miners. Mesothelioma occurs at twice the expected rate in the region of Minnesota known as the Iron Range  compared to the rest of the United States.
You can help Save Lake Superior Association and other groups who are also pushing for stronger state laws and need help bringing to the attention of decision makers examples of the dangers to human health and environment from mines around the region. We believe we can learn from others and develop good laws to prevent tragedies from happening here again and other locations where taconite and similar hard rock mining occur.
to (1) Hemphill, Stephanie (2007-06-08). “Researchers look for links between taconite and mesothelioma”,Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved on 2007-07-18unsafe levels of asbestos fibers.