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Iron Range sulfide mining can be done without harming wild rice or raising mercury levels

I support environmental activism. As a nation, we’ve made great strides thanks to the efforts of environmentalists.

Harlan Christensen

“Minnesota and mining: Our children, our waters and wild rice are political pawns,” published April 15 by Ely resident C.A. Arneson, paints a frightening picture of political intrigue and dangers to our children and communities. With this masterpiece of environmental fear-mongering, Arneson reveals a disturbing problem with the environmental lobby in Minnesota.

Increasingly radical environmentalism, with its “all or nothing” approach, seems bent on destroying rather than working with the mining industry industry.

By using selective scientific data, Arneson’s commentary implied to Minnesotans that our children are in danger as a result of the political intervention of Iron Range legislators. But those legislators did the right thing.

Please allow me to fill in some blanks. I will not argue Arneson’s contention of sulfide effects on wild rice and methyl mercury. What I will argue, however, are some key omissions.

Important MPCA evidence and other scientific studies offer evidence that rice beds and waters containing elevated levels of iron significantly reduce mercury methylation and make sulfide nontoxic to wild-rice seedlings. Iron makes the difference, and we are talking about the Iron Range, right?

Iron can render sulfide nontoxic

The March 2014 MPCA Wild Rice Sulfate Standard Study Preliminary Analysis revealed that iron presence in mud at levels greater than 1 milligram per liter causes sulfide to bond with the iron and renders it nontoxic to wild rice. Field testing revealed a whopping 8.0 to 84.6 mg/L of iron present in waters throughout the proposed future copper/nickel/PGM mining area in northeastern Minnesota.

Source: MPCA
Iron presence in mud at levels greater than 1 milligram per liter causes
sulfide to bond with the iron and renders it nontoxic to wild rice.

The MPCA report contains an entire section on iron’s ability to make sulfide nontoxic to wild rice, and considers it important enough to include an illustration formatted for publication. I’ve yet to hear it mentioned by an environmental group.

After acknowledging that some people may not care about wild rice, Arneson moves on to describe how sulfite can lead to methyl mercury and damaging effects to developing embryos, but fails to disclose widely accepted scientific evidence that iron reduces mercury methylation.

“Reduction of Net Mercury Methylation by Iron … Implications for Engineered Wetlands,” published in Vol. 37, No.13, 2003 Environmental Science & Technology by University of California, Berkeley researchers, provides extremely detailed evidence that mercury methylation decreases with increasing concentrations of iron, which the researchers write is “a variable not previously considered in mercury methylation studies.”

The Northmet SDEIS demonstrates a net reduction of the level of mercury downstream from the Embarrass and Partridge Rivers. This isn’t modeling. PolyMet has been testing for over five years at a remote plant site to provide solid evidence. For Arneson to imply that PolyMet would even consider harming my children and grandchildren is unfathomable.

Regional differences

My wife and I love to watch home-renovation programs on HGTV and are often flabbergasted when a house that would sell for under $200K in Minnesota is listed for $700K to $900K in Boston. Imagine what would happen if state/federal legislators decided to enact laws that disregard any regional differences and set your property tax at the highest home value.

This is what is happening to the Minnesota mining industry.

Minnesota’s stringent 10 mg/L sulfate standard was enacted to protect wild rice. According to the MPCA, no other state has this wild-rice water standard.  I do not hesitate to tell you that the MPCA study validates this level in waters that contain no iron.

The Minnesota Department of Health states 400 mg/L is safe for infant formula in its 1999 publication Sulfates in Well Water. But the 10mg/L wild rice sulfate standard will force towns and cities to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for unnecessary upgrades to water treatment facilities that cannot meet the standard.

In a recent Star Tribune article, Kathryn Hoffman, an attorney with nonprofit law firm Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, commented that the state’s environmental standard remains in place because the state’s research supports it. “And this is science,” she said. “Not democracy.”

This is science, chemistry to be more accurate. The 10mg/L sulfate standard is defensible in waters that contain no iron content. But this is not Boston. Iron Range waters are loaded with iron. The 1973 standard was enacted without taking regional differences into account.

Enormous benefits, without harming environment

Why do environmentalists fail to mention the enormous tax benefits of mining an estimated $3 trillion in copper, nickel and precious metals? Revitalized mining will help pay for improving our schools, our roads and many other projects important to voters, even cleaning up rivers in the metro area. Minnesota legislators are running out of ways to tax you to pay for it all.

If I thought that children and grandchildren of mine or yours are in danger, I would not support PolyMet for a second. The PolyMet NorthMet mine will meet all current environmental standards. Modern scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that mining in the iron-rich Minnesota Arrowhead region can be done without harming wild rice or increasing mercury levels.

Iron Range legislators were right to intercede with Gov. Mark Dayton. The governor needs to demonstrate the courage to direct MPCA to update Minnesota’s antiquated and unreasonable “one-size-fits-all” 1973 wild-rice sulfate standard.

I can do nothing to prevent environmentalists from writing offensive articles other than to make a heartfelt appeal to work together with the mining industry to create a win-win scenario for all of Minnesota.

Harlan Christensen is a Polymet Shareholder, formerly of Duluth, who resides in the Twin Cities.

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If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Elanne Palcich on 04/18/2014 - 02:36 pm.

    ..and we are talking about the Iron Range, right?

    Actually, I thought you were talking about copper-nickel sulfide mining, which is not an iron formation.

    But if you are talking about the Iron Range, whatever the test results show regarding sulfates, sulfides, and iron and how the above impact the growth of wild rice–the evidence is that wild rice stands have been stunted or destroyed in watersheds that receive leaching from Minntac’s tailings basin, and also downstream of the former LTV tailings basin.

    It is also fact that large numbers of area lakes are posted to limit fish consumption to one meal a week due to high mercury levels, and that pregnant women and children should refrain from eating fish. It is also known that mercury is released from taconite plants, as well as from power plants serving the mining industry.

    In the process of defending mining, one must not ignore existing impacts to the environment. Either we don’t have the know-how or the incentive to clean them up.

    • Submitted by Harlan Christensen on 04/24/2014 - 04:33 am.

      Letter from the Author

      To All Who Joined the Discussion:

      In this limited space, I cannot fully address all your comments below, but I’ll do my best.

      I am both an environmentalist and a Polymet shareholder. I provided that bio to MinnPost, so you’d know I represent a different, but not opposite, point of view. I grew up near Superior National Forest in Finland, MN. My uncle and godfather worked in the taconite industry his entire life, with no adverse health effects. The earthly life of this incredible man came to a premature end at the age of 67 when a tree fell on him. I assume he’s in heaven chuckling right along with me at this moment over the irony.

      Investing in anything requires analyzing risk and reward. The Northmet project offers both risks and rewards to the Arrowhead region and the state as a whole. This is not about personal profit. Polymet will not make me rich, as I’m not a major shareholder by any means. Taconite mining taxes contributed $80 million to Minnesota in 2012 in a depressed year for the iron market. The potential tax benefit of copper/nickel mining to the region and state is staggering! Frankly, I could care less if some owner takes his/her cut out of state. The tax revenue and the jobs stay here.

      There are also environmental risks to consider, which is why we need to respectively listen to all sides of this complex issue. I am grateful to MinnPost for offering me the opportunity to present additional information. Read the two commentaries together and you have a more balanced understanding. That was my intent.

      Amy: As you pointed out (below), people are tired of the arguing and personal attacks and simply want more information. By the way, I live in a modest house with enough backyard space to play with my grandkids (and it is nice).

      Mr. Lee: I agree with and echo your response to Mr. Titterud’s suggestion regarding a Health Risk Assessment. I cannot agree with you, however, that simply creating a higher sulfate standard will automatically eliminate the need for long-term water treatment, although it increases the likelihood that non-mechanical controls may eliminate the need for a water treatment plant in a shorter time frame.

      Ms. Arneson: Thank you for your response. You make two good points below. Sufficient levels of sulfate CAN overwhelm iron’s ability to make sulfate non-toxic. The MPCA can’t just pick a number that’s safe for babies. However, they can scientifically determine the level of sulfate needed to overwhelm iron based on downstream iron content. Lab verification would provide the worst-case scenario, since oxygen generated by seedlings and flooding slows sulfide conversion. However, your inappropriate remark to a reader comment that 400mg/L is a disingenuous “smokescreen” should have been addressed to the MN Department of Health – I simply quoted the MDH publication to show the standard can be raised without endangering the public.

      To All Readers: Ms. Arneson also makes a valid argument (below) that it’s complicated, since iron in the water doesn’t consistently translate to iron in the mud where seedling germinate. Factors like water flow makes a difference. However, if a water-sulfate to mud-sulfide ratio was used in 1973 for establishing the 10mg/L standard without any thought to mitigating effects, why wouldn’t it work for iron content the same way?

      I wanted to mention in my commentary that the MPCA Study recommends we consider the adoption of a new standard which measures sediment sulfide levels to supplement or replace the water sulfate standard. It’s not proactive, but it’s much more accurate.

      Regarding mercury: There is no doubt about how harmful it can be to humans, particularly methyl mercury because of its mobility. But how much does mining contribute to this problem? This, I think, is the pivotal question in the debate.

      In March 2007, the USEPA approved Minnesota’s Statewide Mercury TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load Plan). MPCA’s site explains the plan and states the following:

      “Atmospheric deposition of mercury is uniform across the state and supplies more than 99.5% of the mercury getting into fish, with research demonstrating that 70% of current mercury deposition comes from (people) sources and 30% from natural sources, such as volcanoes. About 90% of the mercury deposition in our state originates from outside the state.”

      This factoid about mercury originating from air pollution means mine tailings have been responsible for less than 0.5% of all the mercury that has been getting into fish. When you factor in the improper disposal of incandescent light bulbs into landfills and municipal dumps, identified as one of the primary sources of non-airborne mercury, mining activity accounts for a fraction of 1% of all mercury in fish consumed by Minnesotans.

      A recent commentary about mercury pollution in the St. Louis River estuary suggested we “look upstream” to find the source of the pollution. Ms. Arneson’s piece also piled on the mining industry. Blaming the mining industry for putting the pollution there blatantly ignores the truth. Readers deserve to know where the pollution originated.

      I did a lot of research and studied many environmental reports before I came to my decision to invest in Polymet Mining Corporation. I truly believe the Northmet environmental impact will be minimal, but that doesn’t mean mining should not strive to continually improve.

      My final response to reader comments involves the need to keep working together for a win-win solution.

      At the suggestion of C.A. Arneson (below) I read all 56 pages of SDEIS comments submitted to MDNR by Daniel Pauly. I very much appreciated Daniel’s comments, which focus on mercury seepage. Pauly’s assertion that micrograms per liter (ug/L) were incorrectly calculated in the SDEIS as nanograms per liter (ng/L) for calculating mercury seepage indicates that the previous landowner left behind a tailings basin at the LTV plant that is currently seeping mercury at a level higher the Great Lakes initiative standard for discharge of mercury.

      I think his calculations are correct. No professional would publish such a statement if it could not be confirmed. Those calculations should be amended into in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. Polymet should not surmise that just because mercury from tailing contributes to a small fraction of state’s mercury as a whole, that it can be ignored. I would encourage them to also include a statement that puts this into context for the reader.

      Daniel Paul’s treatment of the potential of mercury methylation in the Northmet tailings basin is impressive and deserves consideration. He also recommends two specific Tailings Basin alternatives that have the potential to meet all environmental requirements and also be less expensive than the proposed NorthMet alternative.

      He made his points respectfully and then presented solutions.

      If we respectfully listen to different viewpoints and work together, we can balance rewards to risks and come to a solution.

      That was the point of my commentary published by MinnPost.

      • Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 04/24/2014 - 10:03 am.

        Mercury releases

        “Figure 4 shows the main sources of mercury in the Lake Superior basin in 2010. Currently, the largest sectors of mercury releases are mining/ metals production and fuel combustion, which together account for 91% of mercury emissions in the basin. Within these two sectors, taconite mines and coal-fired utilities are the largest sources.” (Lake Superior Zero Discharge Program and Critical Chemical Reduction Milestones, 2012 Lake Superior Binational Program).

        • Submitted by Harlan Christensen on 04/25/2014 - 08:36 am.

          Questionable Data & Secret Science Info

          YOU’RE NOT FIGHTING FAIR, AGAIN: You just combined the air emissions to get your 91%. You’re also posting where the pollutants are coming from today – I was talking about where mercury in the St. Louis River estuary originally came from for which the mining industry was blamed in the commentaries.

          Also, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency posts one set of data… MPCA’s website is down at the moment, but readers can google “MPCA TDML” to confirm the information.

          The cross-border collection of Environmental Groups you quoted, which the USEPA has adopted, posts quite another. I’ll go with MPCA data.

          TO BE FAIR… Pollution is being reduced, but the data being used by the USEPA to deny permitting has been called into question many times.

          Wasn’t there a lawsuit last year brought before a federal magistrate where it was revealed the USEPA data “obtained from an expert in the field” turned out to be a paper from a college student? I believe it was last year that the U.S. Congress decided they had seen enough. Hmmm, give me a moment…. ah yes, here it is…from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee of Science, Space and Technology:

          “The U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee last year issued its first subpoena in more than 20 years, demanding that the EPA give lawmakers access to the raw research data for the scientific studies the EPA says support its findings that mercury and other pollutants emitted by the plants cause harm to humans. Smith said in an interview last year that the agency was determined to use “secret science” to justify its stepped-up enforcement of the Clean Air Act.

          https://science.house.gov/press-release/smith-subpoenas-epa-s-secret-science

          FOLKS, I’M DONE POSTING HERE, BUT I’LL CONTINUE TO PUBLISH IN ORDER TO BRING YOU THE TRUTH (PROS & CONS) ABOUT MINING & THE ENVIRONMENT.

          H

          • Submitted by Hank Lee on 04/25/2014 - 09:42 am.

            USEPA will put us ALL out of work

            Miners to protest EPA overreach – Lewiston, IDAHO April 23, 2014

            “We are going to civilly protest the EPA and move them out of the state of Idaho,” Crossman said. “We want the governor to sign legislation that they are not allowed to be here.”

            Last year the EPA required small suction dredge miners to acquire National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits before operating in the state. The miners take issue with the need for the permit and say their dredges don’t pollute or harm the environment or fish. Crossman said because the material comes from the river in the first place, it shouldn’t be considered a pollutant and certainly not one that miners are introducing into the river.

            Crossman believes miners have case law and science on their side, but he said the agency won’t listen. “It’s like the man behind the curtain. You can’t get anywhere with these people,” he said.

            The miners will gather near Riggins around the Fourth of July and run their suction dredges in an act of civil disobedience, said John Crossman of the Southwest Idaho Mining Association at Boise.

            “We want our state legislators to understand we are not against laws and rules but when they are out of control and tyrannical, there is an issue,” Crossman said.

            How out of control is the EPA?

            Jim Werntz, director of the EPA’s Idaho office, said, “The Clean Water Act is very clear that sand and gravel should be one of the pollutants. If they discharge those it is regulated by the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.”

            What’s next? Will I need a permit for my kids can’t make sand castles?

            This is getting absurd.

          • Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 04/25/2014 - 02:00 pm.

            The two are linked

            Taconite operations release emissions, and coal-fired utilities power taconite mines. Past and present.

        • Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 06/25/2014 - 05:18 pm.

          In addition: PolyMet supporter spreads misinformation

          Fear-mongering is the latest buzzword being used by the sulfide mining industry and its supporters, used to divert attention away from the toxic metal poisoning of our children; primarily the result of a taconite industry that does not meet standards. If the grossly underestimated calculations for water flowage, water seepage, and mercury levels discovered in PolyMet’s SDEIS are any indication; the sulfide mining industry is planning to do the same. While PolyMet supporters are busy spreading misinformation.

          It would have been advisable for PolyMet shareholder Harlan Christensen to do more reading before he wrote his MinnPost piece, “Iron Range sulfide mining can be done without harming wild rice or raising mercury levels.” Wildly exaggerating, he claimed that there is “widely accepted scientific evidence that iron reduces mercury methylation.”

          The research he referred to, from a single early University of California, Berkeley, study in 2003, has been ongoing and was revised in 2010: “Impact of iron amendment on net methyl mercury export from tidal wetland microcosms” (including referenced supporting material). http://www.evergladeshub.com/lit/pdf10/Ulrich'10EST-27-HgFeWetland.pdf

          The Berkeley research is still unfinished and flawed. It has not been tested in the field. Christensen has misrepresented the research, and used it inappropriately. It must be studied in its totality and in detail, recognizing that there is a distinct difference between saltwater and freshwater environments.

          The Berkeley research is not comparable or relevant to northeastern Minnesota. Its focus was on ocean tidal salt marshes and pools, about as far from the physical, chemical, and biological interactions of Minnesota’s freshwater aquatic ecosystems as it is possible to get.

          Christensen stated: “Iron makes the difference, and we are talking about the Iron Range, right?” Wrong. The California researchers used ferrous chloride to treat their marine microcosms, a soluble, reduced form of iron. This treatment contrasts drastically with “Iron Range iron” which is not soluble as oxidized mineral forms; iron oxides such as magnetite and hematite.

          Concerning mercury and sulfur minerals in vegetated microcosms the researchers stated: “The formation of these minerals [FeS and FeS2] could also be important to Hg bioavailability since they can be important scavengers of Hg (II), and mercury can coprecipitate with authigenic pyrite in marine sediments. In both cases, it is possible that mercury could be rendered less bioavailable. If this occurred following an iron amendment, it could provide a long-term means of reducing MeHg production, provided that the minerals are prevented from reoxidizing and releasing the associated mercury. However, it appears that iron-sulfur minerals did not affect the microcosms in this way, since the inorganic mercury concentrations were similar for all groups. It is possible that the high concentrations of porewater DOC [dissolved organic carbon] inhibited sorption to the minerals by forming complexes with Hg.”

          In other words the iron amendment did not work.

          Apparently unrecognized by researchers at Berkeley, their iron treatment acted directly on the mercury to change its form to elemental mercury, which then left the microcosm as a gaseous vapor. In the real world, this elemental mercury would cycle back through dry or wet deposition. See S6 or S8 in the study’s supporting material, which shows the total mercury being much less in the iron(II) additions than in the controls.

          Yet the lowest iron added to the system [devegetated microcosm] is higher in methyl mercury than the methyl mercury in the controls, making the conditions ‘worse’ and stimulating the formation of methyl mercury. As was stated, “This phenomenon warrants further attention if an iron amendment is used at the field scale because it would be problematic if elevated MeHg production occurs in areas that receive lower-than planned iron doses.”

          As the Berkeley research cautioned in 2010: “Research at the field scale is needed to determine the efficacy of an iron amendment under field conditions, and if an amendment is effective for longer than 12 weeks or if repetitive dosing would be needed. Additionally, unintended consequences of adding iron to the ecosystem, including toxicity to wetland vegetation, must be taken into account to ensure that changes that alter habitat quality do not occur.”

          In Minnesota, to say that waters with high iron content can handle more sulfates or that iron can control methyl mercury is a dangerous and foolish game to play; particularly when the stakes are the health and intellect of our children. The Berkeley study does nothing to change the odds. The Berkeley study does nothing to change the present high levels of toxic mercury exposure in our children. Responsible mining officials must act to reduce toxic metal and mineral exposures in every way possible. That includes discarding the “not economically feasible” excuse, and putting an end to the accepted stratagem of passing the costs – the health consequences – to their workers and to our children.

          I would suggest everyone read, “Some Ecosystems will Respond to Reductions in Mercury Emissions,” noting: “Forest canopies were found to be very active interfaces that accumulate atmospheric mercury. Year-round studies showed that with the onset of the annual autumn leaf fall, a substantial influx of mercury (heretofore greatly underestimated as a terrestrial mercury source) is introduced to the land surface, soils, and the watershed in general. Mercury researchers across the globe are now reevaluating whether deposition monitoring in the form of precipitation in open settings is a reliable estimate of mercury loadings to watersheds.” http://www.lic.wisc.edu/glifwc/Polymet/SDEIS/references/USGS 2010.pdf This important issue was not thoroughly evaluated by PolyMet or by Minnesota’s cooperating agencies in the NorthMet SDEIS.

  2. Submitted by Brett Ewald on 04/18/2014 - 10:45 pm.

    Voiced bias.

    The weight of an argument should be compared to any bias, ranging from obvious to subconscious, that an author may have. One should be suspect of content when an author does not elaborate his or her bias one way or another.

    There is a brief italicized statement about the author at the end of the article, likely added by the editor. It would be nice to first understand the motives of the author from the outset.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/19/2014 - 10:41 am.

      This is the standard disclosure

      not only for MinnPost but all other media in which I’ve participated. The bio is provided by the writer.

  3. Submitted by Matt Haas on 04/19/2014 - 07:53 am.

    Sell your stake

    Then get back to me about how wonderful the mines (this is about dozens, not just one) will be. Fact of the matter is that you want your return on investment now, and don’t particularly care about the future. I can say this with certainty, since not one single solution about how to ensure the mitigation of these mines continues for the hundreds of years necessary to clean them up has been put forth. All I’ve heard are empty words from company officials and mine supporters about how the truly “value” environmental safety, but just can’t seem to see how tearing up huge tracts of land, and discharging acidic tailings (which will inevitably occur) could be a problem. Empty words, empty promises, damage left for someone else to clean up, sounds like business as usual to the mining industry.

  4. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 04/19/2014 - 08:42 am.

    The reasons given in favor of mining are profit only.

    This may seem so obvious, why bother to mention it ?

    To underscore what Mr. Ewald notes above, the author of this column has no other stated interest other than an increase in the value of his shares in PolyMet. In fact, the proponents of the project have no other interest than profit. There is no other reason for this project.

    However, the profit motive, including any job or tax benefits, will expire in a couple decades. The pollution, however, will remain with us for centuries. The SDEIS itself tells us this.

    The author tells us that despite an expected 500 years or more of pollution from this mining project, there is nothing to worry about, health-wise.

    Since he is so absolute in the certainty of his belief that there are no possible health effects from the PolyMet mine, I figure the author would be greatly in favor of a Health Impact Assessment, as proposed at a link he provides above.

    I mean, isn’t it a foregone conclusion in his view that there COULD NOT BE negative health effects from this mining adventure ?

    So neither he nor any other proponents need fear such an assessment, in fact it would be highly beneficial in that it could put to rest this nonsense about sulfide mining posing a public health risk.

    You know, all that air-headed “fear-mongering”, “all or nothing approach”, and “disregard…[for]…regional differences”, their trivial concern with the need for 500 years or more (!!!) of pollution mitigation – all that tomfoolery.

    Wouldn’t it be better, Mr. Shareholder, if we could debunk all that silliness with a Health Impact Assessment ?? Will you be first in line to support it ??

    • Submitted by Hank Lee on 04/22/2014 - 03:15 pm.

      Tomfoolery?

      You replied and praised the environmentalist’s one-sided commentary on MinnPost and then come here to this commentary to ridicule Christensen’s, even though he agreed with Arneson’s scientific evidence about dangers of sulfate. He said he was simply “filling in some blanks” to give some balance and you rip the guy?

      Everybody recognizes that environmentalist’s call for a “Health Impact Assessment” is a thinly-disguised delay tactic, because health assessments ARE ALREADY BUILT INTO the USEPA environmental standards that must be met before Twin Metals can get a permit to mine for 100+ years or Polymet for 20+ years.

      I’ve read half a dozen of Carla’s published commentaries and cannot find a single instance where she told us that iron makes sulfide non-toxic. I guess YOU must have forgotten to mention that, too, right?

      It’s like “crap, we’re busted… quick, point the finger at something else and start shouting! I know! Hey, workers will be driving vehicles to work! Vehicles emissions are harmful! We need a health assessment right NOW!”

      Yeah, Steve, I’ll bet those workers would be first in line for a health assessment on whether cars and trucks pollute, ESPECIALLY when it delays them getting a job for another 2 years.

      If they meet the standards, they should be able to mine. Period.

  5. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 04/19/2014 - 09:09 am.

    Of Course it CAN Be Done Without Environmental Damage

    But will it?

    NO! Because doing so would limit if not entirely eliminate the very high returns people such as Mr. Christensen expect to gain on their investment in Polymet.

    The ONLY way Polymet provides the returns its investors expect is to throw up smokescreen after smokescreen regarding the potential damage it will do,…

    do the mining “quick and dirty” while trying to hide the damage they’re doing,…

    take the profits out of state,…

    then, when the ore runs out, declare bankruptcy while leaving the citizens of Minnesota to try to clean up the mess they’ll leave behind.

    It’s a tried and true formula constantly used by mining, oil and gas companies forever. Just ask the folks living in the vicinity of gas wells where fracking is being used.

    (I only hope the people in North Dakota are putting away the money to mitigate the devastated landscape that will be left when the Bakken oil field runs dry, but, of course, they’re not).

  6. Submitted by James Hamilton on 04/19/2014 - 10:45 am.

    If only readers

    were as critical of work published here opposing Polymet’s plans, we’d all be better off.

    If anyone can recommend an unbiased analysis, I’d love to read it.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 04/20/2014 - 01:09 pm.

      How about an unbiased Health Impact Assessment analysis ?

      Wouldn’t we all love to read that ??

      It could be dispositive of the competing speculations about harm to the public health.

      One gets the feeling, though, that the proponents don’t want to see such an analysis – certainly not the Iron Range legislators, and Mr. Christensen remains mute in response so far, as of this writing.

      It might tell us something the proponents would rather not see become part of the debate. They prefer speculation as the safer course. However, negative public health impacts will not necessarily be the result. Such an analysis might very well support the proponents’ claim that there is no risk to the public health.

  7. Submitted by Amy Hendrickson on 04/19/2014 - 10:47 am.

    Mr. Chistensen wrote in response to an opinion piece from April 15th which was anti-mining. Here is how that piece was labeled: “C.A. Arneson lives on a lake in the Ely area.” (How nice!)

    Maybe the above piece should have been labeled with something like: “Harlan Christensen lives on a cul-de-sac in Minneapolis” or “Harlan Christensen lives in a tall building in Minneapolis.” (Also, how nice!)

    No matter how much I genuinely like MinnPost, little editorial decisions like this keep me from seeing it as a true balanced state-wide discussion. I live on the Iron Range, and though I’m not 100% for or 100% against the Polymet project, I do get tired of all the arguing. (Let’s face it, without mentioning “shareholder”, this commentary may have garnered one comment …)

    Chemistry does tell us that iron sulfides are insoluble (bond together and settle out of water or solution). No matter who’s a shareholder or not, this is probably a chemical property that should be investigated more.

    And lastly, just to be fair, “Amy Hendrickson lives in a house, on a street, in an actual Iron Range town!” (How nice! : )

    • Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 06/28/2014 - 12:40 pm.

      Works both ways

      I am against mining that does not meet state standards (none of the operating taconite mines do) and therefore exposes area children to toxins that damage their brains. Does that mean pro-mining folks are for mining that exposes area children to toxins that damage their brains, since none of the pro-mining folks are demanding that the industry clean up its toxic pollution? PolyMet will be more of the same according to its multi-flawed SDEIS.

  8. Submitted by Hank Lee on 04/19/2014 - 12:00 pm.

    Was Governor trying to hide this news?

    This business about centuries of pollution? If Polymet closes after 20 years and the mine site continue to leach, say ten times the current limit for sulfate, that would still be only 25% of levels safe enough for infant formula? What a farce the environmentists are pulling!

    Sure, if miners have to be held to 10mg sulfate, you’ll need treatment for centuries. I went to the links and the information you report is accurate, even if it’s hard reading.

    What is the governor trying to pull here? The report mentions that sufficient data exists for site specific standards so change the standards! Or hold Minneapolis to the same 10mg standard. So what if they don’t have wild rice. What environmentalists claim about sulfate causing mercury poisoning would apply in the cities, wouldn’t it?

    Twin Metals and Polymet may be east of the iron range, but the water comes from the iron range.

    Don’t listen to these radicals and their ranting about bias and profits. All we ever hear from liberal media is what environmental group want printed. It’s about time we hear both sides.

    Dayton should raise sulfate to 400 mg/L. It’s less than the Chamber of Commerce wants, but it will be safe enough for a baby AND we don’t have worry about taxpayers paying for centuries of water treatment.

    Good article!

  9. Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 04/22/2014 - 11:45 pm.

    Iron is not a panacea

    Regarding the sulfate standard and iron, Harlan Christensen stated, “Iron makes the difference, and we are talking about the Iron Range, right?” Wrong on multiple levels. Despite the iron he refers to, we currently have huge problems from interactions of sulfate and bacteria in anaerobic sediments of the Iron Range. And technically it is not the amount of iron in our waters but rather the amount of iron in the sediments that can decrease ultimate damage, two different measurements. Also, proposed sulfide mining would not be done on the “Iron Range” but rather in the Duluth Complex. The Duluth Complex is not part of the Iron Range; it is an entirely different ore body. No one would be mining iron, but rather copper-nickel sulfides; and iron levels of the Duluth Complex are correspondingly different than those of the Iron Range.

    Regarding methyl mercury and iron, Christensen could have pointed out that the Berkeley lab study he referenced, “Reduction of Net Mercury Methylation … Implications for Engineered Wetlands,” addressed a “hypothesis;” not “widely accepted scientific evidence” as he asserted. The Berkeley study conclusion: “Although iron amendments could potentially minimize net mercury methylation in engineered wetland sediments, further research under field conditions is required to assess the efficacy of this approach.”

    Christensen could also have pointed out another more recent study involving iron and mercury methylation from the University of California, Davis, “Mercury Methylation from Unexpected Sources: Molybdate-Inhibited Freshwater Sediments and an Iron-Reducing Bacterium (2006).” The researchers stated: “This is the first time that an iron-reducing bacterium has been shown to methylate mercury at environmentally significant rates. We suggest that mercury methylation by iron-reducing bacteria represents a previously unidentified and potentially significant source of this environmental toxin in iron-rich freshwater sediments.”

    If this study’s findings continue to hold true, iron in our waters – in the sediments – could be contributing to mercury methylation.

    The MPCA report, “Wild Rice Sulfate Standard Study Preliminary Analysis,” contained a section on iron because it is emerging research, not because it solves the problem for wild rice (or for methyl mercury in our fish). The MPCA illustration that Christensen copied from the report is not black and white, as he would have readers believe – he neglected to include the explanation that went with the illustration: “The amount of iron and sulfide are dynamic and one affects the other. If enough new iron is flowing into the mud (e.g. via groundwater), then even a lake or stream with high sulfate levels can support wild rice. On the other hand, enough sulfate can overwhelm the supply of iron and make sulfide levels toxic.”

    The research is complicated and many faceted. What is not complicated, and the point Christensen apparently missed, is that both wild rice and our newborns are being damaged by anthropogenic releases of sulfates (iron or no iron). Iron is not a panacea. And in the Lake Superior Basin of Minnesota sulfate (and mercury) releases are primarily from taconite mining. What is not complicated is that there is no valid reason to change the sulfate standard for wild rice waters. The standard is defensible anywhere in Minnesota, including on the Iron Range.

    Christensen’s comparison to 400mg/L of sulfate in water for infant formula is disingenuous and nothing more than a smoke screen, meaningless to this discussion, unless the formula water he referred to also contained mercury and anaerobic bacteria.

    As for his assertion that mercury would decrease at PolyMet: “The Northmet SDEIS demonstrates a net reduction of the level of mercury downstream from the Embarrass and Partridge Rivers. This isn’t modeling. PolyMet has been testing for over five years at a remote plant site to provide solid evidence.” Christensen needs to remember it is important to question, not just accept industry talking points.

    I suggest he read Daniel Pauly’s PolyMet SDEIS comments on mercury, part of the public record. Daniel Pauly has a degree in chemistry from Harvard. The following is just one of several flaws he uncovered in PolyMet’s SDEIS mercury conclusions: “Of particular note are errors in the calculation for average water quality at the Tailings Basin. As described in detail in my comments, the preparers of the SDEIS failed to appreciate that some of their data was in the units “ng/L”, and some of it was in the units “ug/L” (a ug/L is 1000 times greater than a ng/L). This failure resulted in large errors in a key SDEIS summary of mercury contamination, which incorrectly states that the majority of water seepage sites were below the Great Lakes initiative mercury level, when in fact most of these sites were actually above the Great Lakes Initiative level.”

    Why were these units of measurement for mercury never corrected in PolyMet’s SDEIS? Christensen needs to rethink just how well his children and grandchildren are being protected.

    • Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 04/23/2014 - 03:43 pm.

      FYI

      The University of California, Davis, study on iron-reducing bacteria is accessible at this site:
      http://www.researchgate.net/publication/7380496_Mercury_methylation_from_unexpected_sources_molybdate-inhibited_freshwater_sediments_and_an_iron-reducing_bacterium

      Daniel Pauly’s SDEIS comments on mercury:
      http://www.scribd.com/doc/214662113/NorthMet-Comments-by-Daniel-Pauly

      • Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 06/27/2014 - 05:44 pm.

        In addition: PolyMet supporter spreads misinformation

        Fear-mongering is the latest buzzword being used by the sulfide mining industry and its supporters, used to divert attention away from the toxic metal poisoning of our children; primarily the result of a taconite industry that does not meet standards. If the grossly underestimated calculations for water flowage, water seepage, and mercury levels discovered in PolyMet’s SDEIS are any indication; the sulfide mining industry is planning to do the same. While PolyMet supporters are busy spreading misinformation.

        It would have been advisable for PolyMet shareholder Harlan Christensen to do more reading before he wrote his MinnPost piece, “Iron Range sulfide mining can be done without harming wild rice or raising mercury levels.” Wildly exaggerating, he claimed that there is “widely accepted scientific evidence that iron reduces mercury methylation.”

        The research he referred to, from a single early University of California, Berkeley, study in 2003, has been ongoing and was revised in 2010: “Impact of iron amendment on net methyl mercury export from tidal wetland microcosms” (including referenced supporting material). http://www.evergladeshub.com/lit/pdf10/Ulrich'10EST-27-HgFeWetland.pdf

        The Berkeley research is still unfinished and flawed. It has not been tested in the field. Christensen has misrepresented the research, and used it inappropriately. It must be studied in its totality and in detail, recognizing that there is a distinct difference between saltwater and freshwater environments.

        The Berkeley research is not comparable or relevant to northeastern Minnesota. Its focus was on ocean tidal salt marshes and pools, about as far from the physical, chemical, and biological interactions of Minnesota’s freshwater aquatic ecosystems as it is possible to get.

        Christensen stated: “Iron makes the difference, and we are talking about the Iron Range, right?” Wrong. The California researchers used ferrous chloride to treat their marine microcosms, a soluble, reduced form of iron. This treatment contrasts drastically with “Iron Range iron” which is not soluble as oxidized mineral forms; iron oxides such as magnetite and hematite.

        Concerning mercury and sulfur minerals in vegetated microcosms the researchers stated: “The formation of these minerals [FeS and FeS2] could also be important to Hg bioavailability since they can be important scavengers of Hg (II), and mercury can coprecipitate with authigenic pyrite in marine sediments. In both cases, it is possible that mercury could be rendered less bioavailable. If this occurred following an iron amendment, it could provide a long-term means of reducing MeHg production, provided that the minerals are prevented from reoxidizing and releasing the associated mercury. However, it appears that iron-sulfur minerals did not affect the microcosms in this way, since the inorganic mercury concentrations were similar for all groups. It is possible that the high concentrations of porewater DOC [dissolved organic carbon] inhibited sorption to the minerals by forming complexes with Hg.”

        In other words the iron amendment did not work.

        Apparently unrecognized by researchers at Berkeley, their iron treatment acted directly on the mercury to change its form to elemental mercury, which then left the microcosm as a gaseous vapor. In the real world, this elemental mercury would cycle back through dry or wet deposition. See S6 or S8 in the study’s supporting material, which shows the total mercury being much less in the iron(II) additions than in the controls.

        Yet the lowest iron added to the system [devegetated microcosm] is higher in methyl mercury than the methyl mercury in the controls, making the conditions ‘worse’ and stimulating the formation of methyl mercury. As was stated, “This phenomenon warrants further attention if an iron amendment is used at the field scale because it would be problematic if elevated MeHg production occurs in areas that receive lower-than planned iron doses.”

        As the Berkeley research cautioned in 2010: “Research at the field scale is needed to determine the efficacy of an iron amendment under field conditions, and if an amendment is effective for longer than 12 weeks or if repetitive dosing would be needed. Additionally, unintended consequences of adding iron to the ecosystem, including toxicity to wetland vegetation, must be taken into account to ensure that changes that alter habitat quality do not occur.”

        In Minnesota, to say that waters with high iron content can handle more sulfates or that iron can control methyl mercury is a dangerous and foolish game to play; particularly when the stakes are the health and intellect of our children. The Berkeley study does nothing to change the odds. The Berkeley study does nothing to change the present high levels of toxic mercury exposure in our children. Responsible mining officials must act to reduce toxic metal and mineral exposures in every way possible. That includes discarding the “not economically feasible” excuse, and putting an end to the accepted stratagem of passing the costs – the health consequences – to their workers and to our children.

        I would suggest everyone read, “Some Ecosystems will Respond to Reductions in Mercury Emissions,” noting: “Forest canopies were found to be very active interfaces that accumulate atmospheric mercury. Year-round studies showed that with the onset of the annual autumn leaf fall, a substantial influx of mercury (heretofore greatly underestimated as a terrestrial mercury source) is introduced to the land surface, soils, and the watershed in general. Mercury researchers across the globe are now reevaluating whether deposition monitoring in the form of precipitation in open settings is a reliable estimate of mercury loadings to watersheds.” http://www.lic.wisc.edu/glifwc/Polymet/SDEIS/references/USGS 2010.pdf This important issue was not thoroughly evaluated by PolyMet or by Minnesota’s cooperating agencies in the NorthMet SDEIS.

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