Proposed Wisconsin Mine Site Found to Contain Asbestos Fibers

Tensions are building in Northern Wisconsin as plans for developing a $1.5 billion open pit iron ore mine continue despite reports from the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that the site contains rocks that test positive for asbestos.

The mine site proposed by Gogebic Taconite (G-Tac) would stretch across four miles of Wisconsin's Penokee Mountains in Ashland County, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Opponents to the project include the Bad River Indian Tribe and the Penokee Hills Education Project. They cite potential risks both to mine employees and to people living nearby if asbestos is released into the air. Supporters of the mine argue that it would bring hundreds of jobs and help to boost Wisconsin's economy.

Earlier this month the Wisconsin DNR announced that a rock collected by a state geologist contained asbestos mineral fibers. The DNR's findings were backed up by an analysis by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey and the University of Wisconsin Madison.

This week Northland College geologist Tom Fitz said that he collected rock samples from four different locations at the site. Fitz told the Ashland County Board that the rocks contained magnetite, quartz, and large quantities of grunerite, also known as brown asbestos. Concerns in the community have intensified following a report in the Ashland Daily Press that Fitz and a colleague identified at least 100 pounds of grunerite on the mining site.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance that was commonly used in many consumer and industrial products until the 1970s. It was believed to be safe as well as versatile, inexpensive, and fire-retardant. By the 1980s it became clear that exposure to asbestos fibers can cause devastating diseases including mesothelioma, an aggressive and incurable cancer.

Gogebic Taconite responded to the initial finding with a vow to continue the approval process and manage any associated risk. Company spokesman Bob Seitz told the Capital Times that it is possible to protect workers from the release of asbestos during the mining process.

Dave Blouin, a mining expert with the Sierra Club's chapter in Madison, Wisconsin, told the Capital Times that although safe methods of handling asbestos at a mine site exist, they may be prohibitively expensive. Even if you can engineer your way out of it, there are huge costs involved, he says.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no known safe level of asbestos exposure. Each year, more than 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma.

If you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos and later diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be eligible for financial compensation. Call Sokolove Law today for a free case evaluation.

Sokolove Law Team

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Last modified: October 4, 2017