Conservation Minnesota, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy have announced a coordinated effort to raise public awareness about the risks of mining in sulfide ore bodies.
These risks are especially great when the proposed projects are in water-rich areas, such as the Great Lakes Basin, but it is a world-wide problem. A 2010 BusinessReport article identified acid mine drainage (AMD) as the single biggest threat to South Africa’s environment, affecting food supplies and the economy. And according to ContinuityCentral, The international business continuity information portal, the United Nations has stated that AMD is “the second biggest environmental threat facing the world, with only global climate change being more significant.”
From a 1994 report prepared by the US EPA on acid mine drainage prediction:
The formation of mine acid drainage and the contaminants associated with it has been described by some as the largest environmental problem facing the U.S. mining industry…acid drainage from mine waste rock, tailings, and mine structures such as pits and underground workings is primarily a function of the mineralogy of the rock material and the availability of water and oxygen. Because mineralogy and other factors affecting the potential for AMD formation are highly variable from site to site, predicting the potential for AMD is currently difficult, costly, and of questionable reliability. The U.S. Forest Service sees the absence of acid prediction technology, especially in the context of new mining ventures, as a major problem facing the future of metal mining in the western United States (U.S. Forest Service 1993).
Acid mine drainage from coal and mineral mining operations is a difficult and costly problem. In the eastern U.S., more than 7,000 kilometers of streams are affected by acid drainage from coal mines (Kim et al. 1982). In the western U.S., the Forest Service estimates that between 20,000 and 50,000 mines are currently generating acid on Forest Service lands, and that drainage from these mines is impacting between 8,000 and 16,000 kilometers of streams (U.S. Forest Service 1993). In addition to the acid contribution to surface waters, AMD may cause metals such as arsenic, cadmium, copper, silver, and zinc to leach from mine wastes. According to the Forest Service, the metal load causes environmental damage, and is of greater concern than the acidity in environmental terms.
The Midwestern United States has its share of AMD, as well. Abandoned mines in Iron River, Michigan, continue to discharge toxins–the Buck Mine at a rate of 440 gallons per minute, the Dober mine somewhat less. The Michigan DEQ set up an interim response system to treat the water by passing it over limestone and filtering it through wetlands, but toxic sludge continues to accumulate and get hauled away, at great cost to the state. There is no end in sight.
Minnesota has a string of leaking tailings ponds in its historic Iron Range, reason enough, many believe, to object to new mining projects in the region. The current campaign centers around the proposed PolyMet mine near Hoyt Lakes and the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely, where it is feared that toxic runoff could affect the Boundary Waters Canoe area and Lake Superior.
To read the Associated Press coverage, please click here: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/M/MN_MINING_CAMPAIGN_MNOL-?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT