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Toxins Found At Flambeau Mine

December 20th, 2011

Presented By: Julie Christiansen

Kennecott’s “Model” Mine Tests Find Significant Toxins

Flambeau Mining Co., a subsidiary of Kennecott Mineral Co., is showing high levels of toxic pollutants, 14 years after mining operations ceased. Flambeau was an open pit mine that operated from 1993-1997 and produced 181,000 tons of copper, 3.3 million ounces of silver and 334,000 ounces of gold. Kennecott has quoted Flambeau as a model of mineral removal with no evidence of environmental damage as well as “protecting the environment from adverse impact.” Officials from the DNR say they’ve been removing contaminated soil since 2003. The Water Resources Protection Council has filed a lawsuit in January 2011 to dispute Flambeau’s illegal dumping of toxic pollutants since 1998. The Wisconsin Mining Association has regarded the Flambeau mine as meeting the state standards of opening and closing under state law despite the non-existence of baseline water quality readings before mining even began.

Testing exposed 41% of 98 samples taken had two to four times more copper and zinc than standards allowed, set by the state to protect aquatic life. The DNR is deciding whether to classify the water as impaired, which would begin a process of cleaning up the stream, but in some cases would require property owners to pay for this procedure.

Philip Fauble, Mining Program Coordinator for the DNR stated “We weren’t aware of these elevated copper levels that were out there. Once they were detected, Flambeau took proactive steps to control this.” However, according to company documents, high copper levels were in fact discovered in 2003 on a rail spur during reconstruction of a roadway in the vicinity. Two feet of soil, about 7,400 tons were extracted. Flambeau’s reclamation plan includes removing about 1-acre pond area that has shown high levels of copper and zinc and has already spent about $20 million on reclaiming the property.

“It is important to note the elevated levels of toxicity, since this mine has been touted as an example that mining of this type can be done without degrading the environment,” says Emily Whittaker, Executive Director of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve. Other communities in the Great Lakes basin are looking at this situation with much interest, since there has been a fervent increase in mineral exploration and extraction applications. “Our group would like to see how our state agencies react to this and if it would change their perspective on whether new projects will live up to everyone’s expectations.” 

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