March 25, 2019

Asbestos delays library reopening

There’s a problem with the Fenton Jack R. Winegarden Library — it’s not open yet.

If all had gone well with upgrades and renovations, the library would have been open by now. All of the planned improvements have been completed, with just a final cleaning needed, according to Library Board Chair Bobbie Sweetman.

But on Monday, Assistant City Manager Mike Burns presented to council the situation with the library. The issue is that there is 586 linear feet of plumbing that is still wrapped in asbestos insulation. That insulation was encapsulated when the library was converted from a post office, but today, that encapsulating wrap around the asbestos has begun to deteriorate. The problem was discovered a few weeks ago.

Burns asked for up to $30,000 to remove the wrap, the asbestos, and rewrap the plumbing. The council agreed unanimously.

Burns guesses the library will be open in late February or early March. The city still has to find contractors for the job, and work with Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

For safety, Sweetman said, “The council did exactly the right thing. The library board is very pleased at how the council responded to the issue.”

She’d rather see the building open to the public again, but is glad they’re thoroughly fixing the problem, instead of just re-wrapping the asbestos pipes. She said once the library is open, residents will love it. “It’s breathtaking to walk in there now. It’s friendlier, it’s very, very clean and bright.”

About the overall project

The library received new paint, plumbing, electrical, shelving and tiling. The overall renovation is being done in two phases, costing $310,000 total before the asbestos issue, and financed by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

  Patrons and employees will be able to see the original terrazzo floor at the entrance, new plaster overhead, and all will appreciate upgraded bathrooms and electrical service and new carpeting.

 Two new study rooms will be added, and the children’s library area will be modernized. Shelves are already going up in the children’s area, which also has new paint and carpet.

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Asbestos delays library reopening

Asbestos found in Waukesha renovation project

WAUKESHA- A viewer contacted CBS 58 recently, concerned about whether she and her fellow tenants were being exposed to deadly Asbestos, we looked into it.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said on Wednesday that at least four workers at a renovation project at 260 South Street in Waukesha were exposed to Asbestos.

The DNR also did more tests at the site on Wednesday.

Mark Davis with the DNR said when the building owner, Berg Management, recently began renovating the garage portion of the building into downtown apartments, they violated NR-447, meaning an Asbestos inspection was not done prior to tearing out some ceilings and building materials.

He also added that materials were put in a dumpster and not properly disposed of.

Initial DNR samples showed Asbestos levels ranging from 19 to 24 percent, anything over one percent is regulated.

Berg Management explained that this may have been an oversight in their planning.

They currently have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

Berg said that when they started construction they had all the valid permits from the city.

Construction is currently at a standstill as the investigation continues.

The company insists they will do the proper remediation and hope that construction will kick back up in one or two weeks.

Citations can be given in situations and, if it is serious enough, the Wisconsin Department of Justice can get involved.

The DNR thinks that a furnace may be spreading the asbestos to other tenants, but that isn’t conclusive at this point.

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Asbestos found in Waukesha renovation project

Asbestos found in the air we breathe

News 3 has correction to a story which aired Thursday, Jan. 9 on News 3 live at 7. We reported that the small town of Libby Montana was evacuated because of asbestos contamination from a mine. This is similar to the natural occurring asbestos discovered near Boulder City and Henderson. Libby was not evacuated. The Environmental Protection Agency declared a public health emergency in Libby in 2009 and ordered a cleanup of homes in the area.

LAS VEGAS — What’s in the air you breath?

A study by researchers at UNLV found asbestos in the air in Boulder City and southern Clark County. Researchers call our air hazardous and now other universities are joining in to find out how dangerous it is and to study possible cancers associated with it.

Researchers stay away from the word panic but that isn’t because it’s not dangerous. It’s just too early in the study to worry.

“What we have identified is a hazard and people should have the opportunity to know about it so they can make choices,” said UNLV Professor Brenda Buck, who is behind the research

The geologist was in the middle of a different study when she found naturally occurring asbestos outside boulder city
The same type of asbestos known to cause cancer and mesothelioma.

The comparison is Libby, Mont., a town with several illnesses related to the same type of asbestos found here in Nevada.


Asbestos found in the air we breathe

Side-stepping asbestos worries, mine company scales back sampling plans

A company looking to dig a huge iron mine in far northwestern Wisconsin has scaled back its plan for sampling rock in the area to avoid rock containing hazardous asbestos-like fibers.

The state Department of Natural Resources on Monday released Gogebic Taconite’s revised plan for removing tons of rock from the proposed mine site.

After the company submitted its first bulk sampling plan, the DNR asked for more detail. Since then, the agency disclosed the discovery of grunerite rocks in a form that can release fibers like the ones known to cause deadly lung cancer.

Now Gogebic Taconite says it will take two previously proposed sampling sites out of its plan. Questions about how much asbestos-like material is present would wait to be settled when the company files for a permit to begin mining.

“The grunerite issue has been the subject of a media debate and the removal of these areas leaves the debate to be resolved by the systematic and scientific study of the issue that will be required within the permit application,” the revised plan states. “Our position remains that asbestiform material is unlikely to be present in the reserve, but will defer to a proven and methodical approach to address the potential of asbestiform materials in the future mining permit application.”

The plan promises visual inspections at sampling sites to detect grunerite, and also sulphide, which can cause problems of acid drainage from mine sites.

Company spokesman Bob Seitz didn’t return a phone message Monday. DNR officials in charge of the mining project also were unavailable.

The mine project has been divisive, with environmentalists warning that the asbestiform material is dangerous and that mining could release acids that would ruin waterways and wetlands.

The Legislature this year amended state law to limit the extent to which the DNR can review the project, saying that mining jobs were badly needed.

The company originally wanted to remove 4,000 tons of rock from five sites in the Penokee Hills. The company planned to use excavation equipment or explosives. The DNR wanted more details, though.

The new plan calls for removing samples from three sites instead of five using excavation equipment. The company would turn to blasting if it can’t obtain enough materials.

The DNR plans to review the plan and let the company know what permits will be necessary.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Side-stepping asbestos worries, mine company scales back sampling plans

Cost of asbestos controls at mine won't be known for a while

The discovery of asbestos-like fibers at the proposed Gogebic Taconite mine site could add to the cost of the operation, but the amount of added expense won’t be known for many months.

If the substance is widespread, it’s possible that controlling it during mining and rock-crushing could drive expenses so high that the mine would not be built, but there’s no indication that will be the case, said company spokesman Bob Seitz.

“I guess that would be possible,” Seitz said. “Is it affecting the decisions we’re making about doing the testing and moving forward? No. There’s nothing right now to show it will be too expensive.”

State Department of Natural Resources officials agree that it’s too early to know how much of the cancer-causing material lies in the rock of the Penokee Hills in northern Wisconsin where the company wants to dig for iron.

It’s not clear if the test drilling already done in eight spots and five more that are planned will be sufficient to determine the extent of any hazardous fibrous material with characteristics of asbestos, but Gogebic Taconite almost certainly will be able to engineer solutions to any problem — possibly simply using water to keep dust down — just like mine companies have done in other states, Seitz said.

Six active iron mines currently being studied in Minnesota appear to meet federal standards — with some exceptions — for protecting workers from tiny airborne fibers that break loose from rock, but the workers had higher-than-expected rates of mesothelioma, the uncurable lung cancer caused by asbestos, according to a five-year University of Minnesota study.

The next stage of the study will determine if the toxic particles caused the disease, or if some outside factor such as exposure to commercial asbestos contributed, said Jeffrey Mandel, a University of Minnesota School of Public Health professor and principal investigator for the research effort.

The iron mines keep most workers in enclosed cabs of heavy equipment outfitted with high-efficiency air filtration systems, said Peter Raynor, who led a study of workplace pollution controls.

In rock-crushing plants, new air-filtering technology captures airborne particles better than older scrubbers that collect dust in water, Raynor said.

“In most of these operations, the crushers are enclosed and they have belts that carry the ore that are also enclosed,” Raynor said. “You can still get dust emerging from that if you don’t pull enough air through the enclosure.”

The study found instances of inadequate air flows, but workers doing maintenance or other special jobs were most likely to appear to be exposed, Raynor said.

“You would see miners who would show evidence of contamination on their clothing, or the skin on their face,” Raynor said.

Scientists also monitored air in five mining communities, and collected very few fibrous particles in three places and none in the others, said Larry Zanko, a senior research fellow at the university’s Center for Applied Research and Technology Development in Duluth.

Gogebic Taconite will need to control dust of all kinds, and if the cancer-causing fibers are present, extra air monitoring may be required, said Larry Lynch, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources hydrologist who is coordinating the agency’s response as the company seeks permits to conduct bulk sampling, and eventually to mine.

The company insisted in a July 28 letter to the DNR that it didn’t expect to find toxic fibers because the type likely to occur in Wisconsin — in a certain form of a mineral called grunerite — had only been found in one portion of the Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota.

The letter also asserted that the DNR couldn’t regulate asbestos emissions, but last week company spokesman Bob Seitz acknowledged that the independent laboratories that analyze core samples from the site will look microscopically for toxic fibers under a provision of the state mining law.

The DNR disclosed on Oct. 8 that a rock containing such fibers was found at the mine site in May.

Seitz has questioned the finding, saying that it was possible someone tampered with the sample, although he acknowledged he had no evidence. Mine opponents said the DNR’s confirmation that the material is present should spark tougher scrutiny of laboratory tests that are being conducted on core samples the company collected from the mine site.

“There’s a lot of money at risk for (the company) based on the testing for this material,” said Dave Blouin, who works on mining issues for the Sierra Club in Wisconsin.

Mike Wiggins Jr., chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose reservation is downstream of the mine site, said local geologists have observed additional quantities of fibrous minerals. The tribe is also concerned about sulphide in waste rock releasing sulfuric acid into streams.

“They are going to keep the asbestos wet and the sulfide mineral dry?” Wiggins said. “This is a sham. Nobody’s drinking the Kool-Aid up here.”

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration sets exposure limits for toxic fibers that can break away from certain minerals, including grunerite, which has been documented by the U.S. Geologic Survey in large quantities near the western end of the mine site.

Not all grunerite is of the dangerous “asbestiform” type, but that form of the mineral was documented as early as the 1920s near the Tyler Forks River not far from the east edge of the mine site, Lynch said.

An in-depth USGS survey described fibrous bundles and “needles” that match the description of the asbestiform type of grunerite, Lynch said.

A more recent USGS publication noted that grunerite “is abundant in the iron-formation at Penokee Gap near Mellen” near the west side of the mine site.

Some activists have expressed concern that blasting would spread the toxic particles, but Lynch said that properly executed explosions break the rock without spewing large plumes into the air.

Typically, a blasting site can be wetted down on the surface and containers of additional water are dropped into holes drilled into the rock before each explosion, Lynch said.

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Cost of asbestos controls at mine won't be known for a while

Asbestos in rocks won't stop northern Wisconsin mine, GTac maintains

Despite what one geologist calls an “abundant” quantity of asbestos-like mineral on the site, Gogebic Taconite has no plans to abandon efforts to develop a $1.5 billion open pit iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.

Bob Seitz, a spokesman for Gogebic Taconite, said Tuesday there are ways to address the release of any asbestos during the mining process, where rocks are crushed and the iron ore extracted with magnets. He says it could as simple as using water to control dust at the site.

“If it’s something we can handle and if we can demonstrate this to the state and federal governments, then we can move ahead,” says Seitz. “We’ll continue to do scientific testing as required by law.”

A pair of scientists have found at least 100 pounds of asbestiform grunerite in two piles within an old test pit in eastern Ashland County. The discovery is being called a game changer by mine opponents and has brought calls for GTac to stop work on a project supporters say could create hundreds of new jobs and boost the Wisconsin economy.

Grunerite is commonly known as “brown asbestos” and has been linked to lung disease in mine workers, according to a study in Minnesota. Grunerite is also similar to asbestiform particles found in the taconite tailings once dumped into Lake Superior by Reserve Mining, one of the costliest environmental cleanups in U.S. history in the 1970s.

Seitz is familiar with those issues but says mining operators in Minnesota today are familiar with handling the hazardous material and expects that similar procedures can work in Wisconsin.

“They treat it like any other workplace issue,” he said. “It’s been found in parts of the Mesabi Range and they’ve dealt with it there.”

Concerns over the mine project have intensified in the past week following a report in the Ashland Daily Press that UW-Madison Geochemist Joseph Skulan and Northland College Geologist Tom Fitz identified at least 100 pounds of grunerite on the mining site. It is the same mineral identified by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.

The Bad River Tribe, which has opposed the project from the outset, has since accused GTac of covering up the issue as part of its public relations campaign to build support for the project. In July, the company wrote the DNR saying it did not think there was any asbestos on the site, even though a staff geologist suspected it following a site visit this spring.

“It’s a deal breaker,” said Bad River tribal chairman Mike Wiggins in a statement. “Geologists and children could walk in there and see it with the naked eye. This is a compelling, premeditation for disaster, a disaster that would befall the Bad River Reservation and non-tribal people of the Bad River Watershed.”

The Penokee Hills Education Project has also called for the project to be tabled because of asbestos issues.

Dave Blouin, a mining expert with the Madison chapter of the Sierra Club, doesn’t dispute there are ways to safely handle asbestos at the mine site, but says those methods may be too expensive to make the project financially viable.

“Even if you can engineer your way out of it, there are huge costs involved,” he says.

Moreover, given the glut of iron ore on world markets, Blouin questions whether investors would ever take a chance at a Wisconsin mine site where asbestos might prove a risk.

“There are much more attractive options out there if you are looking for an iron play,” he says.

The 2003 Minnesota study being cited by mining opponents concluded that exposure to asbestos was the most likely cause of 14 of 17 cases of mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer. The study also found that mesothelioma occurs at twice the expected rate among the population of the northeastern region of Minnesota where the Iron Range is located.

GTac spokesman Seitz says he is familiar with that study but noted that spouses of mine workers did not appear to suffer any health impacts, suggesting that any exposure to hazard materials is limited to the mining site itself and can be managed.

GTac earlier said it did not believe asbestos was at the site, based on exploratory work done by U.S. Steel several decades ago. U.S. Steel had the mineral rights for the site in the 1950s but never developed the mine, choosing instead to develop in Minnesota where the ore body was closer to the surface.

Asbestos is a set of naturally-occurring silicate minerals that became increasingly popular as a building material in the late 19th century for its sound absorption, resistance to fire and low cost. It was widely used as electrical insulation and in building insulation.

But in the early 20th century, researchers began to note lung problems and early deaths in asbestos mining towns. Despite those concerns, thousands of tons of asbestos were used in World War II shipbuilding. Later studies found 14 deaths from mesothelioma per 1,000 shipyard workers.

As worker safety and environmental concerns increased in the 1960s, efforts began to reduce public exposure. By the late 1970s, court documents proved that asbestos industry officials knew of asbestos dangers since the 1930s but had concealed them from the public, sparking lawsuits that continue today.

All European countries and much of the developed world have since banned asbestos. The U.S. has tight regulations on asbestos but not an outright ban, despite numerous attempts at legislation. It is still used here in brake pads, automobile clutches, roofing materials, vinyl tile and in some imported cement pipe and corrugated sheeting.

While any mention of asbestos causes great concern in this country, asbestos is still widely used in other places and is commercially mined in Russia. The New York Times recently detailed the asbestos industry in Russia, noting that the mines there are a major health concern both for workers and those living nearby.

Russia has the world’s largest geological reserves of asbestos and mines about a million tons a year, exporting about 60 percent of it. Demand remains strong for asbestos in China and India, where it is still widely used in insulation and building materials.

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Asbestos in rocks won't stop northern Wisconsin mine, GTac maintains

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