December 11, 2018

Barbara With: Asbestos another reason to say no to GTAC

Recently the story broke of abundant amounts of asbestos discovered at a bulk sampling site of the proposed Gogebic Taconite mining project in the Penokee Hills. Records now indicate that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources knew about this but did little to give the public information on the potential health risks.

GTAC’s original bulk sampling plan was deemed incomplete. The DNR is currently waiting for GTAC to respond to further questions regarding their application, specifically their plans for containment of the spread of deadly asbestos fibers in their operations.

GTAC’s initial application, however, included multiple denials that there was asbestos at the bulk sample sites: “Asbestiform minerals are not likely to be present in the Gogebic Iron Range near Mellen.”

On Aug. 9, DNR hydrologist Larry Lynch affirmed grunerite, one of the most deadly types of asbestos, was known to be in the region. Lynch, however, minimized the importance of the asbestos and said he thought steps that would be eventually proposed by GTAC would be sufficient to contain the problem GTAC had claimed did not exist.

Considering GTAC’s denials that asbestos was present, the DNR may never have released its analysis without the latest evidence brought forth by Tom Fitz, geoscientist at Northland College, and Joseph Skulan, biologist and geochemist with the University of Arizona. Without their efforts, the asbestos issue might have been passed over with minimal publicity.

Bad River Tribal Chair Mike Wiggins Jr. also accused GTAC of a cover-up, calling their denial of the presence of asbestos “a compelling, premeditation for disaster.”

Ever since GTAC came to town they have been misrepresenting themselves to the people of Wisconsin. Early on, they told us they weren’t going to change the mining laws, but an open records request to the governor’s office revealed not only did they write the bill, they were authoring it at the very time they told us they had no intention of changing it.

They also claimed the new mining bill was going to protect us, and to trust the DNR. Turns out, as soon as the bill passed, Sen. Tom Tiffany admitted it was written to allow the company to legally pollute. Then GTAC hired a paramilitary militia from Arizona to patrol the hills around their drill site.

The people who live in the Lake Superior basin have been fighting hard to educate the rest of the state about this company. Now we face the possibility that they will be permitted to blow up asbestos and expose northern Wisconsin residents to the threat of mesothelioma, an incurable form of cancer affecting the lining of the lungs caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos particles in the air. A recent University of Minnesota study found that those who work in and around the northeastern Minnesota mines are three times more likely to suffer not just from higher rates of mesothelioma but all types of cancer and heart disease as well.

The DNR is obligated to protect the resources of this state, not the mining company that wants to squander them. The DNR should just say no to GTAC’s bulk sampling permit application. Wisconsin should preserve the health, safety and welfare of the people and resources of this state, and not worry about protecting an out-of-state mining company owned by a billionaire. Our very lives will depend on it.

Barbara With is an independent consultant living on Madeline Island.

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Barbara With: Asbestos another reason to say no to GTAC

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