Have you ever received shocking news that left you with that horrible gut-wrenching feeling in your stomach?
The founders of Front 40, a grassroots organization in Menominee County, Michigan, had that feeling when they found out that a mining company had leased thousands of acres of state-owned minerals on the shores of the Menominee River.
Local residents responded by organizing Front 40, an environmental group dedicated to ensuring that metallic sulfide mining operations are not allowed to adversely impact our rivers, lakes, groundwater and lands. The Front 40 name is in direct response to the “Back Forty” venture that was created by the mining interests.
Front 40 has played a critical role in creating public awareness of mining exploration currently taking place in Menominee County. They have informed citizens and elected officials of the reality of community economic issues typically involved with mining operations.
Front 40’s leadership on mining issues has resulted in several municipal resolutions against the Back Forty mine and increased understanding of the threats to water resources from open pit sulfide mining. Freshwater Future is pleased to present Front 40 with a Freshwater Hero Award for their work to prevent waters from being impacted from mining development.
The Back Forty project is just one example of the increasing worldwide demand and value of copper and other minerals that is is contributing to a boom of mineral exploration and development in the Great Lakes region. Freshwater Future’s followers are most likely aware that we are concerned about the impact mining has on our freshwaters—both surface and ground.
Mining in the northern sections of the Great Lakes is often referred to as hardrock mining. Hardrock mining involves excavating the rock, followed by crushing and processing it, usually with chemicals such as cyanide to remove the minerals. The rocks also contain sulfide, which once exposed to air and water produces toxic acid drainage. Mining can also results in pollution by other toxic heavy metals such as mercury
There has yet to be a mine in sulfide ore (the rock with sulfide in it) that hasn’t resulted in ecological damage and pollution to water resources. According to the U.S. EPA, mining and mineral processing facilities generate the most toxic and hazardous waste than any other industry. One of the challenges of cleaning up mining waste is that the cleanups can last more than 40 years or in perpetuity—often resulting in the government and taxpayers assuming the liability and costs.
The environmental damages are just one of the impacts of these mining operations—there are often impacts on tribal rights and interests where mines are located near traditional grounds and there are considerable negative impacts to local tourism where communities depend on visitors enjoying scenic, natural or recreational areas that are decimated by mining.
Freshwater Future understands that the mining process in the Great Lakes, and everywhere, is long and complicated. If you’d like to find out more about the research behind this article, you can find it on our site here: freshwaterfuture.org/mining-article2017-resources Let us know if you need help finding more information like this.