Group Finds Mine Pollution near BWCAW

The advocacy group Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness claims that sulfide mine pollution is occurring at a 36-year-old mine site off of Spruce Road near Ely, MN at the South Kawishiwi River just miles from the limits of the BWCAW.

Spruce Road acid mine drainage site on August 15, 2010.
Spruce Road acid mine drainage site on August 15, 2010.

The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness announcement of the findings can be found, HERE, on the group’s web site.

A story in Saturday’s Star Tribune about the matter can be found HERE.

Drainage from the site, where International Nickel, Inc. excavated for minerals in 1974, contains copper, arsenic and other metals at levels which are harmful to aquatic life and human health, the group said. The group, which had water samples undergo laboratory analysis, says acid drainage is the cause of the problem.

The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness claims the discovery should give state and federal regulators pause in the face of multiple companies advancing large mining projects in the area. The projects would each mine copper, nickel, and precious metals from sulfide-bearing ore.

Sulfide waste rock from such operations can form acidic runoff, if brought into contact with air and water.  The resulting acid could dissolve the ore releasing arsenic, copper, nickel, lead and mercury — the process apparently taking place at the old International Nickel site.

“The lab results fly in the face of what mining companies and our state agencies have been telling the public,” Betsy Daub, Policy Director for the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, said in a statement. “The fact is that Minnesota’s sulfide ore is capable of producing toxic acid mine drainage, and the Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources have not addressed it for over 30 years.”

A Minnesota Pollution control official interviewed in the Star Tribune story called the drainage minor and said a wetland dilutes the metals. A mining industry spokesman said historic sulfide mining problems had no bearing on the mining currently planned in the area, which, he said, would minimize environmental issues.

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