Northland professor finds asbestos at proposed mine site

By KBJR News 1

October 8, 2013 Updated Oct 8, 2013 at 9:16 PM CDT

Mellen, WI (NNCNOW.com) --The Penokee Hills near Mellen, Wisconsin is home to one of the nation's largest ore bodies, but one substance in the ore is what has some people concerned.

"We found this rock and lots of this rock, that has layers, you can see the white layer in there, that has abundant grunerite, the mineral grunerite which is an iron silicate which is brown asbestos," said Tom Fitzsaid, Associate Professor of Geology at the Northland College.

Fitz, says he found evidence of the mineral in the ore body in the Penokee Hills.
The mineral has been linked to mesothelioma if inhaled and bladder cancer if water is contaminated by it.

"I've seen grunerite in other iron formations in Michigan and Minnesota. This is the most grunerite I've ever seen in one place and that rock is probably 60 percent grunerite," said Fitz.

He took the rock from bulk sample site four where the previous mining company, U.S. Steel, conducted sampling in 1960.

However, the discovery of grunerite is nothing new for DNR officials.

"We know that grunerite is present in the area, it's not necessarily present in a fibrous habit but we know it's there," said Larry Lynch, hydrogeologist for the Wis. DNR.

One immediate concern with the mineral is how Gogebic Taconite plans to contain it when the company performs bulk sampling.

"The main point is for bulk sampling, their air emissions that they estimated are very low, and grunerite likely and asbestos form minerals, will not likely be an issue with bulk sampling," said Lynch.

DNR officials say they need more information about the mineral from GTac before they can start bulk sampling or apply for a mining permit.

Both DNR and Gtac officials say bulk sampling is not likely to happen until after the first of the year.

Posted to the web by Kati Anderson.