Photo by Kelly Gryting
Photo by Kelly Gryting

Fish, rice, and the circulating air could be impacted by sulfide mining. According to the 812-page Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Polymet Mining Corp. project, the growth and viability of wild rice can be impacted by elevated sulfate concentrations. 

Polymet created a pilot plant to show regulators it could meet the wild rice standard using treatment technologies by extracting harmful metals from water used in the processing. According to Polymet, membrane filtration will “remove sulfate and metals from water to below water quality standards before it’s discharged into the environment during operations and closure.” 

The company also indicates that, when mining efforts conclude, “waste rock with the highest sulfur content will be returned to the empty mine pit for underwater storage, where the potential to weather and oxidize is greatly reduced. This higher-sulfide content rock represents about 6 percent of the total waste rock that will be mined. Extensive testing demonstrates that the other 94 percent of waste rock is not capable of generating acid.”


On the Other Hand 

MWP writer Jenn Hyvonen talked to Iron Range-based women who have been engaged in the mining issue, to learn about environmental concerns from their perspective. One of them was Chisholm-based resident Elanne Palcich, a retired teacher who writes opinion articles about the topic.

Palcich laid out the scope of the plans: “PolyMet Mining Inc. has proposed to dig three open pits, in what is now the Hundred Mile Swamp in Superior National Forest. Teck Resources has a deposit adjoining PolyMet. Twin Metals/Chile-based Antofagasta has plans for an underground mine under the nearby Birch Lake and a facility bordering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The operations would become one giant sulfide mine district.”

She does not trust Polymet’s ability to safely remove toxic residue. “PolyMet plans to treat plant site water with Reverse Osmosis (RO) when the mine closes. However, if adjoining mine operations intend to use PolyMet’s plant, closure would be postponed indefinitely. RO is very costly and the track record appears to be that it is not effective on the scale of such mining. PolyMet has no specific plans for what to do with the toxic residue that would need to be cleaned from the RO filters.”

Palcich adds, “I am surprised that U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith are jumping in to assure that PolyMet gets permitted. When women lose their deep-seated connections to water and life, we lose our way as humanity. The struggle for power represented by the push for sulfide mining in northeast Minnesota represents all that is the worst within us.”