LONDON NEWS UPDATE: Alexandra Thebert, attending Rio Tinto’s Annual Shareholders Meeting as a dissident shareholder, voiced the community’s concerns regarding Eagle Mine. She reminded Rio Tinto’s shareholders of the mine’s fraudulent permitting, transportation problems, the removal of air filtration at the mine portal, uranium, and the continually growing opposition to Eagle Mine and growing support for protecting our community’s health and environment.
AUDIO: Listen to this MP3 audio recording of Alexandra Thebert speaking truth to power earlier today — yes, that’s heckling (!) you’ll hear while she speaks — followed by a rebuttal from Rio Tinto’s CEO Sam Walsh.
NEWS CLIPPING: A detailed account of Thebert’s journey to London was featured on the front page of The Mining Journal (4-15-2013):
Check out this video footage of SWUP’s executive director, Alexandra Thebert, participating in a London Mining Network event held at the offices of Amnesty International!
UK journalist John Vidal of the Guardian moderated a passionate, informative panel discussion, in which Alexandra joined representatives from Arizona, Columbia, Mongolia, South Africa, and West Papua to highlight the appalling labor and environmental records of global mining companies Rio Tinto and Anglo American.
Please help spread the word about this important work by viewing and sharing the video today.
To hear Alexandra’s testimony, start video at 45:18
Road to ruin | The Mining Journal | April 7, 2013
To the Journal editor:
The Upper Peninsula has a long history of mining and logging. Regardless of one’s personal position on this issue, don’t let the county leave public safety on the side of the road when considering proposed truck routes in Marquette County.
The Marquette County Road commission and Rio Tinto are negotiating plans to spend over $40 million restructuring the roads leading to the Eagle Mine, including over 20 miles of restructuring work on Marquette County Road 550.
The shoulder widths being called for by the Marquette county roads commission are below Federal Highway Administration recommended minimum widths of four foot paved, and below Michigan state standards of a six foot paved shoulder called for during restructuring work, that will endanger the public’s use of the Big Bay highway.
The three foot paved shoulder proposed by the county road commission is below acceptable standards. In the interests of public safety and to adequately plan for future use of this valuable traffic corridor, the county should rebuild the Big Bay highway with the minimum acceptable shoulder width called for during a restructuring project.
The county is failing to consider additional growth in northeast Marquette County, the demands of emergency responders, a projected increase in non-Eagle Mine truck traffic, other commercial development, private landowners, the residents of Powell and northeast Marquette townships and the tourists and travelers to Big Bay.
The county’s plan also fails to adequately provide for safe non-motorized and recreational use of this valuable transportation corridor.
Everyone that travels the Big Bay highway should be concerned. Everyone with an economic stake in Marquette County’s future should be concerned.
Demand the county provide adequately for public safety. Develop the Big Bay highway to the minimum acceptable roadway design standards.
In the interests of public safety, economic stimulus and future growth, the county has the duty before it to add six foot paved shoulders during the Big Bay highway restructuring project.
Mike Beck, member
American Planning Association
Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals
We want to hear from you — What would you say to Rio Tinto shareholders in London? Share your concerns in the “comments” section below and we’ll share your thoughts on our website, Facebook, and at shareholders meeting and protests in London.
Save the Wild U.P.’s executive director, Alexandra, will be heading to London to voice community opposition to Eagle Mine at Rio Tinto’s annual shareholders meeting. She will be the 10th person from the Upper Peninsula attending this meeting to highlight the hazards and risks of Eagle Mine to our community and show the shareholders that we won’t “Keep Calm and Carry On” in the face of sulfide mining.
Alexandra will join activists from around the world, including Colombia, Mongolia, and South Africa, to protest and highlight Rio Tinto’s wretched environmental and labor record. You can follow her trip on Twitter @SavetheWildUP, and on Facebook.
This is made possible by a special fund created by activists specifically for this trip and we are grateful for their support.
April 5, 2013
MARQUETTE – Testing by Rio Tinto and the Superior Watershed Partnership has confirmed the presence of uranium in water samples from the bottom of a rock storage area at the Eagle Mine, which exceeds the federal maximum concentration level for safe drinking water.
The finding does not violate any state or federal regulatory permits at the mine, but technicians will continue monitoring and testing to learn more about the uranium.
“The significance largely is that it was unexpected and (yet) there it is, present; and trying to identify the source and is it being contained and removed,” said Jon Becker, a communications and development specialist with the Superior Watershed Partnership in Marquette. “We feel the public is going to be interested in that and we want to make sure that they know that we’re all looking at it and evaluating.”
Superior Watershed Partnership senior planner Geri Grant collects a water quality sample from the Temporary Development Rock Storage Area sumps at Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine in Michigamme Township during the first quarter of 2013 verification monitoring.
The mine’s Temporary Development Rock Storage Area is designed to be an environmentally secure feature which holds waste rock from mining tunnel excavation until it is later put back underground to fill voids where ore was removed.
The bottom of the storage area has two multi-layered lining systems: a primary contact water sump and a lower secondary lining, called the leak detection sump.
Last month, a laboratory in Indiana determined a water sample taken from the leak sump in February by partnership staff – as part of its ongoing Community Environmental Monitoring of Rio Tinto’s mining activities – was found to contain 72.6 parts per billion of uranium.
Partnership staff was test sampling water quality in the leak sump to compare with previous test results produced by Rio Tinto.
Since December 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been regulating uranium in community drinking water supplies to reduce the risk of kidney disease and cancer.
A Western Upper Peninsula Health Department advisory on uranium said the EPA standards for safe drinking water are based on assuming a person drinks two liters of water each day for 70 years.
The EPA maximum concentration level for uranium under the Safe Drinking Water Act is 30 parts per billion, with concentrations exceeding that level considered unsafe. Consequently, the laboratory was required by law to report the uranium level from the leak sump water sample.
“It’s a reporting requirement of the act because they don’t necessarily know what the source of that water is,” Becker said. “If it was a drinking well, it’d be an issue of concern. This is not drinking water.”
Rio Tinto’s rock storage area and water treatment plant are not governed by the Safe Drinking Water Act, but by the company’s mining and groundwater discharge permits.
Dan Blondeau, a Rio Tinto spokesman in Humboldt, said the estimated 26,000 gallons of water in the leak sump came primarily from rain that fell when the rock storage area was being built three years ago.
Since September 2011, Rio Tinto has removed 2,864 gallons of that water to contact water basins and then to the mine’s water treatment plant for processing.
Blondeau said that process includes ion exchange and reverse osmosis filtration, which are two methods federal regulators recommend for removing uranium from drinking water.
After being treated, water is either recycled back into the mining process or discharged into the ground through the mine’s treated water infiltration system.
“The mine site is designed to collect and treat water that comes into contact with mining activities,” said Eagle Mine environmental and permitting manager Kristen Mariuzza. “We are confident in the system and the methods being used to ensure that only clean water is released back into the environment.”
Becker said the partnership has tested water going into the treatment plant and coming out of it to see if the uranium is being removed. Results are due back from the lab next week.
Until then, Becker declined to speculate on the possible impact.
“Just the word (uranium) is going to be alarming to some people,” Becker said. “It’s helpful to know that the processes that are in place at the water treatment plant are the processes that EPA recommends as the best treatment. But until we have monitoring results that demonstrate the efficiency of that, we don’t want to speculate.”
Meanwhile, Blondeau said tests on solid wastes from the water treatment plant showed uranium levels consistent with Upper Peninsula geology in one waste test and none in another, indicating the treatment plant is successfully removing the uranium.
However, those results have not been substantiated independently by the partnership, which will make new similar tests next week. The solids removed by the process are disposed of at a municipal landfill.
When the initial leak sump water sample results were received from the lab in mid-March, partnership staff quickly returned to the mine to retest the water.
Expedited results from the partnership’s lab showed uranium levels of 61 and 58 parts per billion and no uranium in the contact water sump.
Rio Tinto’s test results from its samples and lab showed 56 parts per billion of uranium in the leak sump and a low concentration of 0.13 parts per billion in the contact water sump.
To help identify the source of the uranium, the partnership requested core samples from Rio Tinto in addition to samples of the waste rock and the aggregate used in the storage area leak detection liner.
Steve Casey, district supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s water resources division at K.I. Sawyer, said he thinks the uranium source may be the aggregate. If obtained from a Big Bay area quarry nearby, the material may contain Jacobsville sandstone.
The sandstone is known from several counties in the U.P. and its formation extends along the Lake Superior shoreline, east toward Big Bay.
Casey said the sandstone’s composition is known to include uranium, while the waste rock from the mine portal is not.
One Michigan Technological University study focused on testing bedrock wells in Jacobsville sandstone found 25 percent of 270 wells tested with uranium exceeding the EPA maximum concentration limits.
Casey characterized the uranium detection at the Eagle Mine as “not terribly surprising or uncommon.”
“We’ve seen numbers about three times that high in wells,” Casey said.
Casey said the DEQ tested 419 private wells and 20 percent exceeded the safe drinking water standard for uranium, including one well registering 202 parts per billion.
Western U.P. Health Department materials said uranium occurs naturally in some area bedrock and groundwater, making wells susceptible to contamination. High levels of uranium have been found in Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw, Gogebic and Ontonagon counties.
The department said “the amount of uranium in bedrock and well water will vary greatly from place to place and without testing, it is not possible to determine if the water is safe for drinking.”
Health department officials said bathing and showering with water containing uranium is not a health concern.
Construction of the Eagle Mine’s rock storage area began in September 2010. By October, the secondary liner was installed and a leak survey performed. The primary liner, risers and the pumping system was completed by November.
In September 2011, the DEQ approved a certificate of quality assurance for construction of the liner systems. That same autumn, Rio Tinto began monitoring the rock storage area as it began digging the mine portal and storing waste rock.
Becker said early last year, Rio Tinto also discovered elevated sulfate levels, which periodically were above the reporting level and have been trending downward since August 2012.
A mining company investigation did not identify a source, but similar to Casey’s uranium source theory, Rio Tinto speculated a small amount of sulfate material was contained in the aggregate used to build the liner.
Monitoring of sulfates and uranium will continue regularly by Rio Tinto and the partnership, with results reported to the public at:www.cempmonitoring.org.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.
Via Telefax delivery:
March 20, 2013
The Honorable Richard “Doc” Hastings
Chairman, Natural Resources Committee
1203 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-5929
The Honorable Edward J. Markey
Ranking Member, Natural Resources Committee
2108 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-4273
Dear Chairman Hastings and Ranking Member Markey:
We write regarding the upcoming testimony of Mr. James Iwanicki, Engineering Manager of the Marquette County Road Commission. Mr. Iwanicki is scheduled to provide testimony at a hearing on “America’s Mineral Resources: Creating Mining and Manufacturing Jobs and Securing America.” His testimony is slated to take place this Thursday, March 21, 2013, before the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources (Committee). We also ask that you allow the voices of those whose homelands are being sacrificed in the name of foreign mining companies currently operating in an irresponsible and unsustainable manner in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to be heard.
Collectively, we are members of a federally recognized Indian tribe, former resource extraction industry regulators, and environmental advocacy groups made up of many of the more than 200 practicing physicians, clergy, property owners, workers, residents, and frequent visitors of the Upper Peninsula who oppose irresponsible mining activities currently underway. Many of us provided testimony and written comments describing our concerns and made recommendations for the proposed mine haul road that Mr. Iwanicki is slated to testify about before the Committee. Unlike Mr. Iwanicki, whose responsibilities are limited to road maintenance and construction in Marquette County, Michigan, we are prepared to provide the House Natural Resources Committee or any of its subcommittees, with a concise description of the unsustainable practices that threaten our resources, including treaty protected tribal trust resources, our environment and our way of life.
We expect that the testimony provided Mr. Iwanicki will downplay the relationship of the road to Rio Tinto’s operations and that the Committee will be told that the road would enhance safety, recreation and “economic benefits for county residents.” Because Mr. Iwanicki’s responsibilities are limited to roads there are many aspects of this debacle of which the Committee will not be apprised. Many are directly related to the primary purpose of the hearing. Mr. Iwanicki is likely unprepared to talk about the impacts this proposed road would have had to National Wild and Scenic Rivers, the McCormick Wilderness, and the health and way of life of the people who work, live and recreate in this area. This is the case because there was no environmental impact statement prepared for the road project. This was possible only because Rio Tinto, which claimed that it would fund the road entirely but only if the project could be permitted within a truncated timeframe that did not allow for the analyses required by federal law.
We believe that Mr. Iwanicki will inform the Committee that he was operating under a budget set by Rio Tinto and under a timeline set by Rio Tinto. We urge the Committee to question Mr. Iwanicki accordingly and specifically ask for an explanation that reconciles the obvious elimination of any use of federal transportation funds to avoid National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements with the exclusive use of Rio Tinto funding. It’s only reasonable to conclude that if the project has all of the benefits that Mr. Iwanicki will tell the Committee it has, using some federal transportation funds would be acceptable. This however was impossible for Mr. Iwanicki as a result of Rio Tinto’s arbitrary time limit. By setting the timeline and funding limitations Rio Tinto simply made it impossible to incorporate mitigation requirements to fulfill the Clean Water Act’s wetlands protection mandates. Rio Tinto maintained control over the project Mr. Iwanicki was charged with managing. It’s important to note that Mr. Iwanicki only became the manager of this proposed project when Rio Tinto’s own road proposal failed to meet these same federal requirements. The failure here is not EPA’s, but Rio Tinto’s failure to recognize and comply with federal environmental protection laws.
Because the proposed road was primarily for the purpose of avoiding traffic problems associated with Rio Tinto’s mining activities, there are literally dozens of substantive natural resource related issues and legal concerns that Mr. Iwanicki will not relate to the Committee. For example, Mr. Iwanicki is not likely to tell the Committee that while Rio Tinto touts the use of health impact assessments through its role as a member of the International Council of Mining and Metals, none has been prepared for any of the activities Rio Tinto has conducted in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The Natural Resources Committee also will not learn how Rio Tinto obtained permits from the State of Michigan to construct and operate a hard rock mine with insufficient financial responsibility assurances in place as EPA fails to complete its rulemaking to address the inability of our government to continue to clean-up the millions of pounds of toxic chemical releases to our environment from these mines each year. Mr. Iwanicki will surely not explain the regulatory fiasco at Rio Tinto’s Eagle mine where a State of Michigan ground water permit is the only thing in place to regulate up to 504,000 gallons of industrial mine water discharges that Rio Tinto itself told the EPA were “not discharged below the surface of the ground.” Additionally, we are very certain that Mr. Iwanicki will not tell anyone at the hearing that State of Michigan water program technical staff who worked on Rio Tinto’s Eagle mine permits and the Governor of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula District Manager who had a very significant role during the permitting process are now on Rio Tinto’s payroll and working at the Eagle mine.
Through his testimony, we expect that Mr. Iwanicki will explain how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through what has been described by our Congressional representative as “regulatory overreach,” eliminated employment opportunities in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We believe Mr. Iwanicki will testify that EPA’s “overreach” occurred in conjunction with a road construction project called County Road 595. Further, it is our understanding Mr. Iwanicki will state that EPA’s refusal to withdraw objections pursuant to provisions of the Clean Water Act that are in place to protect wetlands constituted this alleged “overreach.” We assure you that EPA’s decision to exercise its authority and follow the provisions of the Clean Water Act were not only completely appropriate – but long overdue and sought after by the citizens of the area likely to be impacted by the proposed road. To be clear, the proposed road was initially designed to address concerns related to the transportation of ore on existing roads from Rio Tinto’s Eagle mine, currently in the final stages of construction. Had EPA properly exercised its authority it would have required or prepared an Environmental Impact Statement, which EPA has the discretion to do. Through that process, issues involving the transportation of ore from the Eagle mine and other mines currently being proposed could have been addressed. Unfortunately, Rio Tinto, through extensive lobbying and other actions, set out to eliminate any and all federal environmental regulatory oversight of its activities. If one seeks to find blame with any aspect of mining and its ancillary activities in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan they would be prudent to look carefully at the actions taken by Rio Tinto.
The regulatory failures associated with recent mining activities in the Upper Peninsula are monumental. Conflicts of interest, inadequate financial assurances, catastrophic technical mistakes, inadequate and insufficient scientific and environmental analysis, significant lack of experience among technical staff employed by State and federal regulatory agencies, complete absence of cumulative impact assessments and more, all are certain to contribute to a situation where we will see a net reduction of jobs in the resource extraction industry. This does not have to be the case and we are prepared to explain this situation to the Natural Resources Committee in full measure. While they operate with breathtaking arrogance and an unfounded sense of entitlement, these companies continue to avoid public debate regarding the manner in which they operate. We hope you agree that respectful and informed debate is the American way to create jobs through responsible and safe development of our natural resources.
In closing, please know that we have placed our trust in your abilities and integrity, and we seek only to remain confident that the Natural Resources Committee will not make decisions that forsake the laws and federal trust responsibilities of the United States. Please feel free to contact us if you believe we can be of service to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
Concerned Citizens of Big Bay
Big Bay, Michigan
Member, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community
Executive Director, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve
Big Bay, Michigan
President, Save the Wild U.P.
Iron River, Michigan
Congressman Douglas Lamborn, Chairman, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Via fax: (202) 226-2638
Congressman Rush Holt, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Via fax: (202) 225-6025
Congressman Daniel Benishek, Member, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Via fax: (202) 225-4710
My name is Kathleen Heideman, and I’m commenting tonight as a Marquette resident and tax payer, and as a Michigan citizen concerned about environmental quality. I’m also speaking on behalf of my family, which is an adjacent landowner to Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Eagle Mine site. When Rio Tinto says they want to be a “good neighbor,” they’re talking about being our neighbor.
Rio Tinto promised us a world-class mine with state-of-the-art environmental protections. The Bag House air-filter system they pledged to install was an environmental protection. According to Cynthia Pryor:
“This 65-foot-tall high stack sits within 150 feet of the Salmon Trout River. We worked hard to get the air filter included as part of Kennecott’s original air quality permit as they intended the mine exhaust to be vented directly to the air. Now, they are backpedaling and want this air filter to be removed. We are vehemently opposed to such a notion and want to make this clear…”
Let me be clear: Rio Tinto’s request to remove the air filter from their Main Vent Air Raise (MVAR) is based entirely on finances, with blatant disregard for environmental quality. It hasn’t been a good year for Rio Tinto. Perhaps tonight’s hearing should be called a “profit maximizing” permit review.
Rio Tinto wants us to believe their air filter is no longer necessary, due to changes underground, or that it would simply not be compatible with their special sort of mine. Actually, Rio Tinto wants to break this promise because air filter systems are notoriously difficult and costly to maintain. Regardless of the source or size of the emission particulates, emissions will build up on the filter, just as lint accumulates on a dryer screen, or dirt coats the air filter of a truck. Instead of discarding the filter, the bag house (depending on design) must shake, blow or electrostatically discharge the material that builds up on the filter, collecting this “caked” debris for proper treatment as a pollutant. This is a nasty cake, containing heavy metals from exhaust and sulfur-rich ore dust. Air filters fail when they develop tears in their fabric (allowing pollutants to stream through unchecked), or when moist material accumulates on the filter (reducing filter efficacy or blocking exhaust flow) or when acidic compounds in the emissions attack the filter fabric. While difficult to maintain, the whole point of installing an air filter and bag house is Process Control: avoid sending this stuff out into the environment, period.
According to their permit modification request, a mine worker will now simply stand near the MVAR stack once a day, and make a visual “observation” recording whether emissions other than water vapor from the stack are VISIBLE on a gray-scale (limit of 5% opacity). Seriously? This is an unacceptably primitive “alternative” to an air filter system.
It must be noted that Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine proposes to have a below-ground heating system functioning most of the days per year, Spring – Fall – and Winter, whenever the outside air temperature falls below 32°. Conveniently, their heater is considered “exempt” for purposes of emissions control, so we are supposed to disregard all the hydrocarbon pollutants present in their heater emissions (which also exit the MVAR stack). In fact, the mine is proposing to increase the amount of underground heating, increasing the BTU output (and emissions) of the heaters. This mine will be heated 24-7, most of the year. Air exhausted from this mine will contain vehicle exhaust from underground mining vehicles, emissions from the heating system, and clouds of ore dust particulates released through blasting, loading, and hauling — and on most days of the year, exhausted air will be warmer than ambient air temperature. Warm, moist air — from a damp mine!
Rio Tinto had to have known from the beginning there would be condensation issues for the MVAR filter they were proposing. Any other conclusion doesn’t make sense. Condensation is a common problem, which the air filter industry routinely handles by recommending insulation and heating of the air filter bag house. Again, this increases total cost of operation. Condensation issues reduce the effective life of the air filter, whatever filter fabric is selected, which again makes the air filtration system more expensive to maintain. Added to this situation is the fact that ore dust will be sulfide-rich, creating (sulfuric) acid condensate on the air filter (as well as the MVAR and bag house equipment), leading to yet more expensive maintenance.
Clearly, Rio Tinto’s proposal to remove air filter controls from the MVAR is a cost control decision, not a pollution-control or process-control decision.
Sending an unfiltered plume of high velocity mine exhaust directly into the clean air over the Yellow Dog Plains is unconscionable. Notwithstanding the peaks of the Huron Mountains, the Yellow Dog Plains are the height of land for Marquette County. There has never been heavy industry in this location, but according to Rio Tinto’s air pollution dispersal maps (based on dubious weather models unconnected to the Yellow Dog Plains), mine pollution will soon be raining down over half of Marquette County. The unfiltered particulates they propose to send into our skies will be blanketing the blueberries we harvest, changing the PH of our lichen-covered soils (destroying these lichen, which are highly sensitive to acid rain), damaging the ecosystems of the Huron Mountains and Silver Lake Basin, accumulating in the watersheds of the Salmon Trout River, Yellow Dog River and countless wild streams, and contaminating our air with particulates that present an inhalation hazard for humans and wildlife. Rio Tinto may plan on issuing dust masks to employees at the mine, but they certainly won’t be handing them out to deer hunters, berry pickers, the deer and moose and wolves, or anyone with camps on the Yellow Dog, or homes in the Big Bay area. We all deserve clean air to breathe.
It is curious to note: Rio Tinto states in their Permit that they may need to change underground operations to respond to economic considerations, which are “constantly changing”:
“The underground ore handling system is based upon “best facility economics. Because economics are constantly changing due to market conditions, changes to the underground ore handling system may be necessary to reflect future market conditions.”
Of course, another factor that is “constantly changing” is industrial technology and the best facility practices related to process control and air pollution abatement measures! Curiously, the permit makes no mention of changing practices to align with future environmental practices.
Rather than use a filter system, Rio Tinto proposes to spray water inside the mine. Spraying groundwater on air-polluting dust? That’s a 19th century bandage, not a pollution control. Rio Tinto’s “solution” to air pollution assumes that Michigan groundwater is endlessly available, free for the taking, and unconnected to aquifers supplying drinking water to surrounding residents of Marquette County. Those assumptions are unacceptable.
Rio Tinto repeatedly promised to build a world-class mine, using world-class technology, and world-class safety practices. Was that a bait and switch strategy? If they made an empty promise, regarding their MVAR air filter, the Eagle Mine permit was fraudulent.
If allowed, Rio Tinto’s permit modification would allow the mine to spew an unfiltered plume of air pollution for the winds to disperse over Marquette County. The “Solution to Pollution is not Dilution” – that was 19th century approach. Rio Tinto received a mine permit from the DEQ because of environmental assurances they made, including the MVAR’s filter.
They do not have free license to pollute Michigan’s air and water. Please deny this permit modification on the grounds that it is based on economic considerations and terrible science, and will functionally increase both air and water pollution.
While the air filtration system Rio Tinto proposed will be expensive to implement and difficult to maintain, such control measures are essential, not optional. Clean air is priceless.
Kathleen M. Heideman
Marquette MI 49855
By Cynthia Pryor
The main and substantive issue, in the new Air Quality permit application for the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine, is Rio Tinto’s assertions that an air emission control is not required for the Main Air Raise Vent (MVAR). The MVAR is a stack that is 128″ (10.6′) in diameter and 65′ high and is the only vent for all the underground workings for the mine. The emissions will include all those items associated with the development and retrieval of the ore body including blasting, ore handling, truck traffic, diesel fuels, large mine heaters, etc. Rio’s original Air Quality Permit was approved with the inclusion of a Bag House and air filter on this MVAR stack – that would capture 99% of all emissions which would include reactive sulfides resident in and broken loose from this ultramafic massive sulfide ore body.
Rio Tinto has reconfigured their plant so that they have moved the original underground cement batch plant and associated material silos (aggregate, cement) to the surface near Eagle Rock. They say there will be no crushing underground and an ore pass system will not be utilized – therefore reducing sulfide dust and emissions to such a low level that a bag house would no longer be required. In fact they say that a bag house would not even function properly – the emissions are so low. They will instead control all underground dust with water spray from a tank truck and and a hose.
All of Rio’s assumptions are based on modeling programs, heater systems whose emissions are exempt from regulation, and the assertion that will be able to control all dust with water spray from a hose. The DEQ does not require them to have controls on this huge MVAR stack, even though there will be controls on every other emission source at the mine, including an emergency generator. The DEQ does not require any air quality monitoring of the site or of this stack. Emission testing of the stack will only take place when Rio Tinto is producing 1,660 tons of ore a day. The DEQ will not require any emission testing during the blasting of adits or production of ore under this tonnage rate. Sulfide, heavy metals, blasting emissions, fuel emissions, etc. will be free flowing into the air on the Yellow Dog Plains with no control, no monitoring, and very limited testing.
The DEQ calls the Yellow Dog Plains an attainment area – which is a geographic area which has air quality below Federal Air Quality Standards. In other words, the air is good on the Plains and Rio has now the ability, under law, to pollute this air until they reach the limit of the air quality standard set by the EPA. Their models show that they can do this at 91% of the attainment level. That leaves 9% left for someone else to pollute to get them at a Saginaw, Detroit Chicago level of Air Quality. These emissions are only representative of the mine area itself. All diesel emmisons and fugitive dust from the transportation of the ore on public roads are not included in this emission standard calculation. The DEQ says they have no regulatory oversight of public roads. Nor do they have oversight of the underground workings to prove they can make their claims of low emissions. That is someone else who takes care of that (Mine Safety and Health – MSHA) . The DEQ is only concerned with what comes out of the stack and Rio’s models say they can do it and that is all the proof they need until they do their first production emissions test.
From the beginning, the State of Michigan has recognized that non-ferrous sulfide mining is different and that sulfides, from metallic sulfide mines, released into the environment and coming into contact with air and water can cause Acid Mine Drainage and damage to our land, our waters and our communities. The DEQ Air Quality staff do not seem to see any danger to the Salmon Trout River which flows a mere 150′ from this stack. They have required no impact assessment of the Yellow Dog watershed, nor an impact statement to Eagle Rock – the KBIC sacred site within the fence of this mine. They see no danger to the community of Big Bay and it’s peoples, lake and streams who are an immediate few miles downwind from the Eagle Mine.
Our job is to ask for proof that their models are correct – by demanding air quality monitors at the site that run 24/7 for the life of the mine.
We must also demand that Rio Tinto keep the promise that they made in their original permit (made as a result of public comment and pressure!) to put an air filter on the main polluting source at the site – the MVAR stack. “PROMISES KEPT” is Rio Tinto’s main motto. Let us make them hold to that promise.
MARQUETTE – Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials have released details on an upcoming air quality permit public hearing and comment period for Rio Tinto’s Eagle Mine project.
The mining company has made several changes on-site since its original air use permit application was approved in 2007. Some of the modifications listed by the DEQ included eliminating on-site ore crushing, adding an enclosed aggregate storage building and eliminating a fabric filter dust collector.
An informational session and public hearing have been scheduled for March 12 in the Huron Room of the University Center at Northern Michigan University. The information period will be from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. DEQ staff will be available to answer questions. The public hearing will begin at 7 p.m.
The Eagle Mine site north of the city of Marquette in Powell Township is seen in this recent aerial photo. (Rio Tinto photo)
“The sole purpose of the hearing will be to take formal testimony on the record,” the DEQ said in its hearing announcement. “During testimony, questions will not be answered; however, staff will be available to answer questions outside the hearing room.”
A written public comment period is in effect on the draft permit conditions, which is required by state and federal regulations.
Written comments received during the comment period will be considered in the final permit decision.
Mail comments by March 12 to: Mary Ann Dolehanty, Permit Section Supervisor, Michigan DEQ, Air Quality Division, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, MI, 48909-7760. Comments may also be submitted from the web page: www.deq.state.mi.us/aps/cwerp.shtml. (click on “Submit Comment” under the Rio Tinto Eagle Mine LLC, Permit to Install No. 50-06B listing).
After resolving any issues raised during the public comment period and the hearing, a final decision will be made by the DEQ on the permit application.
A DEQ fact sheet is available on the issue, the public comment announcement and other information is also available at: www.deq.state.mi.us/aps/cwerp.shtml.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.