MAC: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto hits a snag in US copper mine clean-up

Published by MAC on 2012-01-16
Source: Statement (2012-01-12)

Utah citizens sue the UK company over polluted air

In November 2001, Rio Tinto secured a "Notice of Completion (COC)" from Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) confirming that it had successfully reclaimed its Flambeau copper mine.

This enterprise generated massive opposition by a coalition of Native Americans, environmental groups, hunters and fisherfolk from the late eighties onwards.

Nonetheless, Rio Tinto was allowed to mine thousands of tonnes of copper, gold and silver between 1993 and 1997.

Over the past 10 years a number of those who led the earlier unsuccessful struggle have  asserted that the COC was based on unreliable, if not fraudulent data.

They said the UK company should not be allowed to walk away from the project, claiming it had done everything legal and necessary to clean up its mess.

In particular, the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC), along with the Center for Biological Diversity, pointed out that one of the small rivers ("Stream C"), downstream of the mining operations, continued to contain unacceptably high levels of toxic metals. See: From: Laura Furtado

Now the state DNR has issued a statement which appears to back this claim.

WRPC is appealing for public support (which need not be confined to local people) to the DNR's proposal to list Stream C as an "impaired water".

Editorial note: While Rio Tinto is customarily cautious in claiming full rehabilitation of its mining operations - notably in regard to water quality - the company has, on several occasions, cited the Flambeau mine as an example of best practice.

This has been particularly important in the North American context since Rio Tinto is still meeting opposition to plans to open up a nickel mine in the neighbouring state of Michigan. See: "Objective" Rio Tinto Study Raises Eyebrows

Meanwhile, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and Utah Moms for Clean Air, announced in late 2011 that they would sue Rio Tinto for polluting the Salt Lake Valley air.

Dr. Brian Moench of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment says that state Department of Air Quality data shows Kennecott/Rio Tinto is responsible for 30-percent of dangerous particulate air pollution in the Valley.

See video and report at http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=18563833.

Rio Tinto's "best practice" reclamation in Wisconsin is faulted by state government agency

Urgent Appeal to Wisconsin Mining Activists

12 January 2012

The Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC) is asking you to voice your support for a proposal by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to list an unnamed stream at the Flambeau Mine site (known as "Stream C") as "impaired" due to copper and zinc toxicity. The Flambeau Mine, owned by London-based Rio Tinto, operated near Ladysmith, WI from 1993 to 1997. According to company reports, the mine produced 181,000 tons of copper, 3.3 million ounces of silver and 334,000 ounces of gold.

The DNR recently released its proposed 2012 list of "impaired waters" - a list of lakes, rivers, and streams that are too polluted to meet state water quality standards intended to protect public health and aquatic life. On the list is Stream C, which flows over the southeast corner of the Flambeau Mine site, close to where the ore crusher was located and other mining-related activities took place in the mid-1990s. Toxic levels of copper were discovered in the stream shortly after the mine's closure, and the pollution continues to this day. The part of the Flambeau Mine site where Stream C is located has not been released from state reclamation requirements.

Water quality data collected by both Flambeau Mining Company (FMC; the Rio Tinto subsidiary that operated the Flambeau Mine) and the DNR since the early 2000s show that Stream C consistently has had levels of copper (and sometimes zinc) over the concentrations established by the DNR to protect surface waters from "acute toxicity."

Stream C flows in the vicinity of the mine's former rail spur and across a portion of the mine site that, to date, has failed to be certified by the DNR as being successfully reclaimed by FMC. From there the stream meanders through a wooded area and eventually discharges into the nearby Flambeau River. Stream C is known to receive runoff from areas where mining wastes were stored in the past and where toxic discharges continue to this day. A DNR-designated "reference stream" does not show toxic levels of copper or zinc. Nor do two additional small streams being monitored in the area.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council and Center for Biological Diversity filed a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit against Flambeau Mining Company for its toxic discharges of metals, including copper, iron, and zinc, into Stream C and the Flambeau River; the litigation is ongoing.

In addition, because of the consistently toxic levels of copper (and sometimes zinc) that have been documented in Stream C over the past decade, WRPC petitioned the DNR in late 2010 to consider classifying Stream C as "impaired." The inclusion of Stream C on the Department's proposed 2012 list of "impaired waters" shows that the DNR listened to us. But it is not a done deal.

We expect Flambeau Mining Company to actively lobby the DNR to take this stream off the impaired waters list proposed by the Department (see press release from FMC - link can be found below) - there is a public comment period now underway.

WRPC is appealing to Wisconsin mining activists to submit written comments to the DNR in support of the Department's proposal to list Stream C as impaired for copper and zinc and to ask that the DNR require Flambeau Mining Company to clean up its mess.

Please see the next page for how to submit your comments.

Public comments are due by February 20, 2012 and can be sent via email or regular mail to:

Email: dnrimpairedwaters@wisconsin.gov or AaronM.Larson@wisconsin.gov

Mail: Aaron Larson
Wisconsin DNR
Water Evaluation Section - WT/3
101 S. Webster St.
PO Box 7921
Madison, WI 53707-7921

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For more information, please go to:

1. DNR's impaired waters webpage: http://dnr.wi.gov/org/water/wm/wqs/303d/
When the page pops up, do the following:
-Click on Search 2012 Current, Proposed, and Restored Impaired Waters
-Next you will be asked to "Enter Water Name or WBIC." Enter the following: "Stream C, trib to Flambeau River" and click "Search"

2. Another listing on DNR's impaired waters webpage:
http://dnr.wi.gov/org/water/condition/impaired/comment.htm
When the page pops up, do either or both of the following:
-Click on 2012 Impaired Waters List (Stream C is listed as "Unnamed" on the Excel spreadsheet)
-Or click on View a summary of the data submitted to see detailed information on Stream C

3. Flambeau Mining Company's press release from 12/11/2011:
http://www.thewheelerreport.com/releases/December11/1220/1220flambeau.pdf

4. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article about the proposed impaired waters list, including a paragraph
about Flambeau and Stream C: http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/135968848.html

5. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel front-page article from November 2011 about Flambeau Mine pollution:
http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/tests-find-toxins-at-flambeau-mine-133051073.html

6. WRPC website: www.wrpc.net
-For information on our lawsuit, click on the "Flambeau Mine Lawsuit" tab at the top of the home page. To specifically access the "Notice Letter" filed by WRPC in federal court (which includes data for the polluted discharge to Stream C), click on the third document listed under "Official Correspondence."


Utah environmental advocacy groups sue Kennecott

ABC 4 News

19 December 2011

SALT LAKE CITY - Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and Utah Moms for Clean Air announced Monday they are suing Rio Tinto for polluting the Salt Lake Valley air.

Dr. Brian Moench, from Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment says Utah Department of Air Quality data shows Kennecott, Rio Tinto is responsible for 30-percent of dangerous particulate air pollution in the Salt Lake Valley.

Dr. Moench says the goal is not to put Kennecott out of business, instead he says the two groups want to see Rio Tinto spend more money on alleviating air pollution. "They made profits of $15 billion dollars this year. They have more than enough money to put serious pollution mitigation measures in place, and they refuse to. We spent six months with them trying to negotiate with them, and we hit a brick wall." He says it's a public health issue that cannot be ignored. "Air pollution has the same sort of consequences of exposure to cigarette smoke. It's just a little less intense. It causes low grade inflammation of the arterial system, and that affects every single organ system." He says it can lead to heart attacks and stroke.

The groups are taking the mining company to court for violations of the Federal Clean Air Act. They claim that while Kennecott may be abiding by local permits it is failing to meet Federal standards. Dr. Moench says increased mining activity has led to increased pollution. " The EPA must approve any increased activity on Rio Tinto's part, and not only have they not approved it, they have specifically declined to approve it. Even though our DAQ has given them that permit the EPA has not signed off on it, and that makes it illegal."

Rio Tinto released a statement in response to the announcement by the environmental advocacy groups. They say claims they are in violation of the Clean Air Act are without merit. The statement says "Kennecott has and continues to operate within the parameters of its air permits and is consistently in compliance with U.S. EPA and Utah Division of Air Quality regulations, which are based on strict standards for protecting human health."

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