Abundant Asbestos Confirmed at GTAC Bulk Sampling Site

October 6, 2013 by Barbara With

Dr. Joseph Skulan holds a piece of rock from bulk sampling site #4 that contains chrysotile, one of the deadliest forms of asbestos.

Dr. Joseph Skulan holds a piece of rock from Bulk Sampling Site 4 that contains chrysotile, another deadly form of asbestos. Chrysotile, a known carcinogen, has been recommended for inclusion in the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent, an international treaty that restricts the global trade in hazardous materials. Photo: Barbara With

Yesterday a group of scientists led by geologist Dr. Tom Fitz and geochemist Dr. Joseph Skulan hiked to Gogebic Taconite’s proposed Bulk Sampling Site 4 to hold a press conference concerning the deadly asbestos present at the site. Several journalists accompanied the scientists who explained that high levels of the dangerous mineral have been found where GTac has applied for a permit to remove thousands of  tons of rock.

Fitz, an associate professor of geoscience at Northland College, showed samples of rock from the site that contained the grunerite, one of the deadliest types of asbestos.

According to Skulan, who issued this press release earlier in the day, the DNR collected rock at Bulk Sample Site 4 in the spring which was positively identified as grunerite, and the asbestiform crystal habit was confirmed by a scanning electron microscope (SEM) last week. “DNR hydrologist Larry Lynch sent me both reports,” Skulan confirmed. “The stuff we collected is identical to the DNR sample, and is from the same location.” While the presence of grunerite asbestos at Bulk Sample Site 4 was confirmed by the DNR, the high abundance of asbestos at the site has not previously been reported.

GTac’s original bulk sampling plan was deemed incomplete, with the DNR stating several concerns including the known presence of asbestos. GTac, however, claimed that asbestos does not occur in the proposed mine site:

“…NR 445 does not apply to the proposed bulk sampling activities because asbestiform minerals are not likely to be present in the Gogebic Iron Range near Mellen, WI. There are documented occurrences of amphibole minerals in the geology of this area but not all amphibole minerals are asbestiform minerals or asbestos. Based on our due diligence, the geologic conditions in the Gogebic Iron Range do not support the formation of asbestos.”

The DNR response pointed out the inaccuracy of GTac’s claim:

“While not widespread in the Mesabi Iron Range, asbestiform minerals are nevertheless present.”

GTac has yet to respond to the DNR’s August 13, 2013 letter requesting more information.

In a press conference broadcast live from the Harvest Education Learning Project, Dr. Skulan stresses the major health risks of asbestos, and Dr. Fitz shows the asbestos under a digital microscope.

Skulan and Fitz have documented the presence of abundant asbestos at one of four sites where GTac plans to conduct bulk sampling operations. The “due diligence” GTac performed in determining that there is no asbestos in its proposed mine site evidently did not include actually looking at the rocks it plans to sample. GTac has a history of giving inaccurate and misleading information to regulatory agencies and the public, and of downplaying the known risks of mining in asbestos and sulfide bearing rocks. For example, this video from a meeting in Hurley on April 23, 2013 shows GTac president Bill Williams claiming that the mesothelioma experienced by Minnesota miners was due to pipes wrapped in asbestos insulation in the processing mills and not blasting asbestos apart in the pits:

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6 Comments on “Abundant Asbestos Confirmed at GTAC Bulk Sampling Site”

  1. bbead October 6, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    GTac’s due diligence = “Magic 8 Ball has all the answers you need! Ask any question, turn over the Magic 8 Ball, and you’ll get its answer; NO asbestos.”

  2. orewhore October 6, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Seitz: “Prevention is always the answer. That means finding out what is going on.

    Williams: We don’t need to talk about no stinking asbestos.

  3. El Jeffy October 7, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

    There are multiple questions that this raises, but the biggest is whether the asbestos that is present is even an issue since asbestos is only problematic for human health if it has sufficient grain length. What sampling methods were used? Can we get samples for independent analysis? I would love to take thin sections of this and put them under the microscope, but the data presented here is insufficient to make a conclusion. Personally I do not think that the GTAC operation is economically viable due to the quantity of overburden that has to be removed to access the ore and the angle of the deposition, but if there is an asbestos issue that must be assessed, but this is not enough information to make an assessment.

    • Barbara With October 8, 2013 at 7:05 am #

      Did you watch the video? They did do microscope analysis and there is a photo in the video that concludes not only is the grain length long enough to make quite an impact, it is unreasonably long. You are free to do your own analysis I am sure. As someone living under the shadow of this mine, knowing these scientists to be reliable, I would beg to differ on if there is an issue and if this is enough information to determine if there is asbestos. It should force a greater examination by truly unbiased sources, not GTac’s cadre of paid “consultants” who have already lied to us. GTac has claimed there is no asbestos. That alone should be cause for alarm, but then they have gotten away with murder thus far. Why would they tell us the truth at this stage of their racketeering game?

  4. El Jeffy October 8, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    I missed the top videos because I usually have flash-block in place to avoid ads when I am on the internet. I was hoping for something a little better than the crumpled up piece of paper though, and also would have to determine if the asbestos is only in one area of the pit or if it is everywhere, the nugget theory of mining.

    • Barbara With October 10, 2013 at 9:07 am #

      If you download the press release there are images from the DNRs own SEM. Its all there you just have to look for it.

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