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Potential risk of sulfide mining too great for local environment-100% guarantee from mining track record.

In response: Potential risk of sulfide mining too great for local environment.  The writers of the Feb. 26 Local View column, “Mining prospects spread optimism in the Northland,” wrote enthusiastically about the potential economic wealth associated with making use of the copper, nickel and other metals that are plentiful in our region.
By: Susan Nordin, for the News Tribune

The writers of the Feb. 26 Local View column, “Mining prospects spread optimism in the Northland,” wrote enthusiastically about the potential economic wealth associated with making use of the copper, nickel and other metals that are plentiful in our region.

However, they failed to mention the negative impacts the mining of those metals could have in the form of pollution, environmental harm, human health issues and the potential of cleanup costs that would have to be paid for by taxpayers when the mining is done.

On the same page, the News Tribune’s editorial (Our View: “Unlikely coalition shows mining urgency”) included a quote suggesting environmental messes connected to metals mining happened decades ago, before the Clean Water Act. That would be simply incorrect. Mine pollution requiring expensive cleanup has occurred since the Clean Water Act in numerous states, including Arizona, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico.

As a physician, I am concerned about the potential health effects of sulfide mining. I am alarmed that the proposed mines would be so close to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the tributary waterways that flow into the St. Louis River and, ultimately, into Lake Superior.

Will the mining companies spend a lot of money trying to offset potential pollution around the mines? Of course. But unfortunately, accurately predicting the ultimate deleterious effects of acid-mine drainage is very complex. Despite the best science and resources spent to avoid it, acid-mine drainage remains a main source of environmental damage related to sulfide mining. Unlike iron mining, sulfide mining for copper produces sulfuric acid and releases metals that can enter waterways near mines. This can seriously affect fish and marine habitats and water quality, and this can have unknown effects on human health.

Arsenic, manganese and thallium are present in some acid-mine drainage. High levels of these metals in drinking water definitely affect human health and can cause illness.

Frighteningly, mining companies struggle to cite a single example of a sulfide mine that has not produced polluted drainage. Are we willing to risk our own main source of fresh water in exchange for money?

There is a reason the BWCAW is protected. Not only does it provide habitat for animals and fish, it offers a place of refuge and rejuvenation for human beings, which is important for optimal health. The wilderness area is a vital part of what draws people to this region and is a large source of revenue in tourism. Sulfide mining risks polluting and spoiling our wilderness area.

There are examples in Montana and Colorado of unintended acid-mine drainage leaving miles of river devoid of fish and aquatic life. Can something like that be mitigated? Do we want to risk that happening in Minnesota?

The cost of mitigation also is a concern. It is tempting to think about the potential economic gains that come with mining, but mining companies elsewhere have declared bankruptcy and left taxpayers responsible for cleanup.

I recognize the need for copper and other metals in society. I am not “anti-mining.” However, the potential risk of sulfide mining to our local environment and source of fresh water bears serious thought. The price of sulfide mining is too high. There are too many risks, and there’s a lack of evidence that sulfide mining will not cause irreparable environmental harm and risk to human health.

Susan Nordin of Duluth is a family physician for the University of Minnesota School of Medicine concerned about the potential for health impacts related to precious-metals mining.

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