Asbestos fiber found in rock at proposed mine site
By: Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
A geology professor in Ashland says he has verified that a dangerous form of asbestos fiber is in at least part of the proposed Penokee Hills iron ore mine.
Northland College geoscience professor Tom Fitz says he hiked up to the mine site on Saturday to a place where U.S. Steel left a rock pit when it did samplings in 1960. He says he found grunerite, a rock that contains asbestos fibers. Fitz says that didn’t surprise him, since grunerite is known to exist in the Gogebic Range.
“What’s really a surprise is the abundance of it, at least in this one location,” he says. “The grunerite is probably 60 percent of the rock. That is the richest rock I’ve ever seen.”
Fitz – who describes himself as not anti-mine, but pro-science – has studied iron formations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Minnesota’s Iron Range for almost 20 years, and says this grunerite is a public health danger if explosives are used to mine it.
“If this rock is broken up and a dust is created, then these little fibers can lodge in your lungs and your lungs can’t clear them out because they’re like barbed little needles,” says Fitz. “It’s a real health concern especial with this form of asbestos.”
Department of Natural Resources hydrogeologist Larry Lynch, who has helped regulate mines for 30 years in Wisconsin, says the DNR did find grunerite on that site in May and has told mining company Gogebic Taconite about it. But he doesn’t see any immediate danger if Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) uses explosives in rock sampling.
“If they propose a mine, they would need to conduct a much more systematic and comprehensive evaluation to document the distribution and abundance of asbestos-form minerals,” says Lynch.
The DNR is waiting for more information from GTAC before it decides to allow the company to conduct rock sampling in the Ashland-Iron county area.