WPR's Mike Simonson Updates On Rock Sampling For Mine

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WPR's Mike Simonson Updates On Rock Sampling For Mine

Premiere Date: 
December 6, 2013

He shares the latest on Gogebic Taconite's rock sampling proposal for an iron ore mine.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, there is new information this week out of northwestern Wisconsin, where Gogebic Taconite wants to build a controversial iron ore mine. The company submitted its plans to the state describing how it will take rock samples from the Penokee range, a plan that bypasses the area where asbestos-like fibers were found. Wisconsin Public Radio’s Mike Simonson joins us live from UW-Superior where he has been following the story. And Mike, thanks for doing so.

Mike Simonson:

Hi, Fred.

Frederica Freyberg:

Hey. So this is a new plan, and it's okay with state regulators to simply avoid taking rock samples at a site where asbestos-like fibers exist?

Mike Simonson:

They haven't replied yet. They just got the letter from GTAC last week and so they're going to go over that letter and they're meeting with GTAC. In fact, they've had meetings this whole week with GTAC and even the feds, the Army Corps of Engineers has taken part in that. So their answer to this latest information probably could be a month away. They have, I believe, up to 30 days to reply. So they could say, look, you know, this is in the middle of all of your bulk sampling sites. You can't just dance around this one. Eventually, you're going to have to answer the question, is -- how dangerous is this asbestos-form fibers and how much of it is in there?

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, what is the concern specifically with that mineral there called grunerite?

Mike Simonson:

Well, even though GTAC says in its letter that they think it's unlikely that asbestos-form fibers exist in the grunerite rock and that bulk sampling site that they're skipping, the DNR said, no, absolutely it is asbestos-form fibers. The question is, how much and how dangerous is it? Because there are varying degrees of danger to the different fibers. But the DNR says they're there and they've got to be mitigated. They cannot be allowed to get into the air or the water. So GTAC has decided to skip that spot. In doing so they’ll probably have-- And if they're allowed to skip it, they'll probably have less mitigation to do, at least for the rock sampling part.

Frederica Freyberg:

You had some new information this week, I understand, that you learned from a professor?

Mike Simonson:

Yeah, Professor Tom -- of Northland College, who independently also discovered this asbestos in the grunerite. His finding were really what made it public. Sent his findings to Lawrence University, as well as a couple of other, the UW geology lab and also the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Well, St. Lawrence corroborated his findings and that he just got back this past week. The corroboration also says that this is a highly concentrated form of asbestos fibers, and he says that is the most dangerous. And that's what the St. Lawrence professor says as well.

Frederica Freyberg:

And, again, we have just seconds left, but again, this is the very area that Gogebic Taconite is declining, or wants to decline, to sample.

Mike Simonson:

Right. It's right along the Ashland County/Iron County line, and it's an area that has widespread asbestos-form fibers in the grunerite. Asbestos is a scary word, and GTAC, I think, wants to avoid having that word uttered.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Mike Simonson.

Mike Simonson:

At least for a while.

Frederica Freyberg:

Thanks very much.

Mike Simonson:

You bet. Thanks for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

The Department of Natural Resources still plans to review the mining company's 361-page application and let them know what permits will be necessary. 


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