Asbestos mineral fibers have been found in a rock sample from Gogebic Taconite’s proposed iron ore mine site in northern Wisconsin, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
But the extent of the mineral, known as grunerite, at the site of the $1.5 billion proposed mine in Ashland and Iron counties is not known, the DNR said.
The presence of asbestos was confirmed by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey recently after a DNR geologist visiting the site last spring suspected the rock contained telltale fibers of the carcinogen.
Gogebic Taconite has been conducting preliminary work as part of its plans to apply for a permit to mine iron ore from a large open pit that could run for 4 miles.
If Gogebic goes ahead with its formal application, it would be required to study the extent of asbestos in the rock, explain how it would control the spread of airborne emissions and how it would be monitored, DNR hydrogeologist Larry Lynch told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“The main concern is airborne particulates,” Lynch said. “It will come down to how effective their dust control will be.”
Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz said the company will conduct studies to determine the extent of asbestos in the rock. He said a mining bill passed last spring, and attacked by opponents, included language that mandated the analysis.
University of Minnesota researchers released results of a five-year study earlier this year which found taconite industry workers face an increased risk of contracting mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer, and the risk increases the longer they remain on the job. Researchers also said they couldn’t say for certain if dust from iron mining and processing operations caused it.
Sen. Robert Jauch, whose district includes the proposed mine, opposes the project under the mining regulations approved by the Legislature.
The existence of asbestos “raises numerous serious scientific concerns about the geology of the area,” Jauch said.
Jauch said he was troubled that Gogebic said in a letter to the DNR in July that it didn’t believe grunerite would be found.
Seitz said the company made the comments based on information from consultants and data supplied by U.S. Steel, which conducted exploratory work decades ago.
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