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Cliffs Cited for Extensive Minnesota Iron Mining Pollution

Three groups today announced their intent to file suit against Cliffs Erie, a subsidiary of Cliffs Natural Resources, for ongoing water pollution from previous taconite iron mining at three sites on Minnesota’s Iron Range.  PolyMet Mining Co. plans to utilize two of the sites in order to dispose of wastes from its proposed metallic-sulfide NorthMet project.  As part of a purchase agreement, Cliffs would maintain a roughly 7% stake in the project.  The other Cliffs site, at the old Dunka Mine, is closer to Franconia Minerals and Duluth Metals’ proposed sulfide projects.

A news release issued by the Center for Biological Diversity noted that, “according to Cliffs Erie’s own monitoring reports, there are numerous ongoing violations of water-quality laws relating to management of the former LTV tailings basin. PolyMet’s proposal for its copper-nickel mine is to pile its own tailings waste on top of those from a former taconite mine that are still polluting.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, Save Lake Superior Association, and the Indigenous Environmental Network filed a formal notice letter today that acts as a “prerequisite to filing a citizen enforcement action under the Clean Water Act.”  The Save Lake Superior Association, a grassroots citizen group, proved instrumental in holding the Reserve Mining Co. to account for dumping iron mining waste into Lake Superior from 1955 into the 1970s.  The pollution introduced asbestos-like material into the lake and harmed fishing in the area.

“Before the state even considers the approval of a new wave of mining in northeastern Minnesota, it should first require the mining companies to clean up the pollution from past taconite mines,” said Marc Fink, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “As we all learned as kids, you should clean up one mess before making another one.”

The LTV basin, located six miles north of Hoyt Lakes, was used for taconite tailings from the 1950s until 2001. The unlined basin is the source of numerous seeps and discharges of polluted wastewater into groundwater and surface waters, which eventually reach the Embarrass River.  For the proposed NorthMet mine, PolyMet proposes to process more than 225 million tons of ore at the LTV processing facility, and use the same LTV tailings basin already known to be leaking.

“While past mining has already polluted these waters, the proposed heavy metals mining would bring severe new threats of pollution to these waters, which ultimately flow into Lake Superior at the Duluth harbor,” said Le Lind of the Save Lake Superior Association. “This new threat includes sulfuric acid runoff and higher levels of mercury in waters that are already impaired.”

In addition to the LTV site, the groups intend to file suit to stop ongoing pollution at the Dunka mine site, which is close to where Duluth Metals has plans for a copper-nickel mine adjacent to the Kawishiwi River, and where Franconia Minerals proposes a copper-nickel mine at the bottom of Birch Lake. Both the Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake flow into the Boundary Waters.

“These are historic tribal lands where the tribes retain treaty rights, and many tribal members are deeply concerned about additional pollution to fishing streams and sources of wild rice,” said Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

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