MAC: Mines and Communities

Letter: From Joan Kueyk, Miningwatch Canada To Michigan Office Of Geological Survey

Published by MAC on 2007-03-01
Source: MiningWatch Canada ()

Letter: From Joan Kueyk, MiningWatch Canada to Michigan Office of Geological Survey

1st March 2007

To: Steven Wilson,
Office of Geological Survey,
P. O. Box 30256,
Lansing, MI 48909-7756

e-mail to: wilsonse@michigan.gov

Dear Sir:

RE: Kennecott Eagle Project comments.

I am writing on behalf of the Board and staff of MiningWatch Canada to add our voices to those protesting against the Eagle Mine.

MiningWatch Canada is a coalition of twenty labour, Aboriginal, environmental, social justice and development organizations from across Canada with a mandate to support communities affected by mining in Canada, and affected by Canadian mining companies abroad. We bring together communities affected by mining, workers whose survival depends upon mining, and the indigenous people who face the prospect of their traditional lands being irreparably damaged by mining.

For eight years, we have provided a co-ordinated and effective response in Ottawa to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices in Canada and around the world. Mining Watch Canada carries out and/or supports the monitoring, analysis and advocacy necessary to affect the behaviour of industry and public decision-makers.

I am also writing to you personally, as someone who lived in Sudbury Ontario for over thirty years. I raised my children there, and one daughter still lives in that community with two of my grandchildren. I am well aware of the damage caused by nickel mining in sulphide ore bodies, and of the high environmental and social costs that are borne by the communities that depend on that industry.

The ore from this mine will be shipped off-site to Sudbury for milling and smelting, where it will add to the accumulated destruction of the environment in that city, which already has three enormous tailings impoundments, and contaminated soil in most of the region.

Tailings and waste rock

Mining is really a waste management industry. Digging up metals generates enormous piles of rock, which contain trace amounts of potentially harmful substances. As an example, one gold wedding ring produces anywhere from 6-30 tonnes of waste rock and tailings. Waste rock is unprocessed rock that has been broken into pieces to facilitate its removal; tailings are the processed finely ground rock created by extracting ore. Around the Great Lakes in Canada and the US, they are usually highly acidic, leaching sulphuric acid into waters and aquifers. They can contain arsenic, mercury, copper, nickel, selenium and other toxic substances. Tailings (also called slimes) are usually kept in impoundments of immense size, which have to be monitored in perpetuity. In Canada, mining already creates almost 2 million tones of waste rock and tailings a day.

In Sudbury, the CVRD-INCO Copper Cliff tailings area is over 3000 hectares in size; Xstrata has two major tailings areas: one near the Strathcona mine and mill, and the "New Tailings Area" near the Xstrata smelter (over 30 million tonnes of tailings). Similarly to the Eagle Mine proposal, both companies now return much of their waste rock underground through a paste backfill process. Slag - the residue from smelting the ore - is another concern, and although it is less toxic than tailings, very elevated levels of heavy metals have been found in properties in the Gatchell and Little Britain neighbourhoods adjacent to the slag heaps.

Air deposition to soil

In Sudbury, historic smelting practices have also resulted in the acidification and the accumulation of heavy metals in soil and water, which have been documented in a number of studies by scientists like Keith Winterhalder, Tom Peters and Gerry Courtin. Over the past five years, Sudbury has been the subject of a Soil Study to measure contaminants in the soil from historic mining and smelting practices. The analysis of these results is about to be released to the community.

The raw soil study data has some very disturbing findings. 5% of the samples have above the recommended level for antimony, arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, and zinc. Lead and selenium levels in a quarter of the samples exceed the guidelines, and copper and nickel levels are way over the guidelines in almost 80% of the samples. Although aluminium is not included in the Ontario guidelines, the levels in the samples are anywhere from 3-6 times the levels recommended in other literature. To make things worse, these exceedances correlated with one another. High concentrations of nickel, copper, cobalt, arsenic, lead and zinc tended to turn up in the same samples. The highest proportion of these samples are in the core area, especially in Gatchell, Little Britain and the northwest corner of Ramsey Lake.

(The tables can be found at:

http://www.sudburysoilsstudy.com/EN/media/support/reports/2001SoilsData/2001SoilsData.htm

Table 7.1.3.3 -Sudbury Core Pollution summary and Page 47.)

The general message from the local Department of Public Health is that "there is no immediate danger". Certainly, the contaminants in the soil are probably not getting worse. They are probably getting better with lime amendments by homeowners to soil, with the Sudbury reclamation work, with regulations restricting SO2 and particulate emissions from the smoke stacks and with covers on the dry tailings. We are probably in no more danger now than we were ten years ago.

However, unless we know a lot more about the interactions between acidity, each of the different metals and our health, we cannot rule out the effects these contaminants may be having on all of us and our families. Do we know which of us are unlucky enough to be living in the places where the metals are elevated? Do we know if our children's school or daycare has high metal levels in the school yard? Do we know where tailings have been used as fill? Do we know to what extent chronic illness, cancers and hyperactivity in children can be linked to these contaminants? Do we know what we can do if there is a link?

It is frightening to face these issues. But I prefer to know the dangers I face and participate in solving the problem - not be handed soothing phrases and patted on the head.

We have a right to know about the contaminants affecting our lives and those of our children

We do not have a Public Right to Know about the toxins in these tailings and slag.

In Canada, The National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) is the means by which Canadians can find information about the pollutants annually transferred by companies and released to the environment in their communities. It helps government and other groups by identifying priorities for action to protect health and the environment in Canada. It is part of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).

In the United States, the Toxics Release Inventory, or TRI, plays the same role. When mining was added to the TRI in 1997, the mining industry suddenly moved to the top of the list of polluters, contributing over half the 7.77 billion pounds of toxic chemicals released to the environment. Most of the pollutants came from the waste rock and tailings that are created at the mine site.

In Canada, most of the CEPA toxins released by the creation of tailings and waste rock during mining/milling have been exempt from the National Pollutant Release Inventory, the NPRI since 1993.

For a number of years now, a struggle has been taking place in Canada between the mining industry and organizations that care about public health, to get mining wastes and tailings included in the NPRI. The mining industry argues that low concentrations of toxins in waste rock and tailings occur in nature and are therefore not "releases to the environment".

Removing the rock from the ground and crushing it exposes dangerous substances to air and water, and disposes of them in waste rock heaps and tailings impoundments which have to be monitored in perpetuity. Their effects are cumulative and toxic, and the public has the right to know about them.

Protecting ourselves when and if the mines and smelters close

MiningWatch Canada learned on April 13, 2006, through an application under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act, that the two mining companies in Ontario with the largest environmental footprint have been allowed to "self-assure" their mining operations in Sudbury and Timmins against closure and abandonment. The companies themselves estimate the cost of that clean-up as over $585 million.

The clean-up estimate costs have not been independently evaluated, and there is no requirement under Ontario law for this to be done.

On December 5, 2005, the Auditor-General of Ontario released a report slamming the Ontario government for exposing tax payers to this enormous risk.

" Companies whose bonds are rated Triple B or higher meet the financial test established in the Mining Act and don't have to provide finan­cial assurance. We were informed by the Min­istry that Ontario is the only province in Canada that accepts the corporate financial test for of assurance, which constitutes the major portion of total financial assurance provided. This form of financial assurance essentially amounts to self-assurance.

" A consultant hired by the Ministry in 1996 to review self-assurance found that the risks associated with granting such a privilege to a mining company are considerable because the Ministry is effectively assuming the status of an unsecured creditor. Any failure of these min­ing companies would mean a significant liabil­ity for the province. Also, it could be difficult to obtain another form of financial assurance once a company is experiencing financial difficulty and can no longer meet the financial test.

" Experience in other jurisdictions has shown that mining companies that have gone bankrupt continued to meet the financial test right up to the time they filed for bankruptcy protection. Because significant mine-rehabilitation costs are being borne by government after companies that offered self-assurance have gone bank­rupt, some jurisdictions have eliminated the use of self-assurance. For example, the Bureau of Land Management in the United States has not accepted any new corporate self-assurance since 2001."

No Environmental Assessment for the imported ores

Even though the ore imported from the Eagle Mine will add significantly to the environmental risks faced by the community in Sudbury, there will be no environmental studies to look at the effects of the ore's transport, processing or storage. Compared to the effects likely to be experienced in Michigan, the effects in Sudbury are much greater. We become a sacrifice zone.

Kennecott has argued that the transportation plans/impacts are not part of the statute and rules and has refused to develop an impact statement about the transportation of ores from the site to the railhead; and from the railhead across Michigan; and from Michigan across the Soo bridge to Canada and on to Sudbury.

No independent person in authority in Canada or the US will even ask questions about the milling, smelting and waste management issues.

I ask you to consider the impacts on Sudbury of this way of dealing with the worst impacts from mining. Kennecott states that " There will be no on-site processing and therefore, no tailings will be generated as part of the project. The very simple design of Eagle includes excavating the ore from the ground, crushing it to minus six inches and loading it into trucks. The trucks will take the ore to an off site rail transfer facility where it will be loaded into rail cars for processing outside of Michigan." There will be tailings, and they will have an environmental impact.just not in Michigan.

Although amending and improving our be-nighted regulatory regime when it comes to mining is our work to do, I ask you to not take advantage of the situation, and to instead, help us remedy it.

Yours respectfully.

Joan Kuyek, National Co-ordinator

cc. John Rodriguez, Mayor of Sudbury, john.rodriguez@greatersudbury.ca

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