Photo courtesy of Erin at Unbound Roots -
Photo courtesy of Erin at Unbound Roots -

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) have ignored repeated requests by Minnesota medical professionals to have a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) done prior to permitting PolyMet.

In 2015, the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP) requested that a “comprehensive, independently produced HIA be completed for the PolyMet NorthMet Project.” The Minnesota Medical Association, the Minnesota Nurses Association and the Minnesota Public Health Association had also requested that an HIA be completed for the Project. 

The DNR—as the responsible governmental unit under Chapter 4410 of Minnesota Administrative Rules—denied their requests.

Industry before children 

The DNR apparently believes it knows best, the question is for whom? DNR Land and Minerals would have us believe that there would be no inherent health problems associated with proposed sulfide mining in water-rich Minnesota. No air or water pollution. No neurotoxins. 

No manganese; even though manganese already contaminates water wells near Hoyt Lakes, where PolyMet plans to reuse the LTV Steel Mining Company (LTV) tailings basin. No arsenic; even though PolyMet testwork showed that LTV tailings leached arsenic, and the basin should not be disturbed, nor the tailings used for covers and dams due to the potential for toxic releases of arsenic to the groundwater. No mercury; even though a Minnesota Department of Health study in 2011 found that 10% of newborns tested in the Lake Superior basin of Minnesota had toxic levels of mercury in their blood. No nickel; even though a significant portion of this suspected mutagen is unrecoverable during processing.

The MAFP request for an independent HIA was rightly made out of concern for the health of all Minnesotans of all ages. My focus is Minnesota’s children, the most vulnerable. They depend on us. The adults. Their welfare is our responsibility. No job, no amount of money—or copper—is worth the intellect of a child. What is your child’s mind worth?

Vanishing act

At the final hearing in Duluth—held to address PolyMet’s permit to mine—I asked the DNR exactly what had happened to the elevated arsenic risk, which in the beginning of the permitting process was tied to the No Action Alternative. It now seems to have disappeared. The representative I spoke to—who was in a position to know—claimed ignorance. 

I was then directed to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, where I was basically told that any arsenic release did not really matter anyway. Apparently, since the LTV tailings basin is already leaking, the solution is to risk releasing high levels of arsenic—then add massive amounts of toxic sulfide mining waste to the already leaking basin—and then capture the basin’s legacy pollution including arsenic, at the same time that PolyMet collects and treats the entire overwhelming mess. Whenever that may be. 

Such a scheme is delusional. It is based on the falsehood that the agencies are going to be able to completely collect, contain, treat, and safely dispose of the concentrated toxins from the millions of gallons of water that PolyMet would pollute “indefinitely;” all while also controlling system failures and natural disasters for century after century, for perpetuity. 

And, wickedly deceptive, do so without putting ‘the next generation of brains in danger.’ file:///Users/carlaarneson/Desktop/Researchers list chemicals endangering ‘the  next generation of brains’ - CNN.webarchive

Kick the can down the road decision-making

A rational solution to the LTV legacy pollution from taconite mining would have been to collect the mega-millions of dollars of unpaid, accrued violations, and try to clean up the LTV tailings basin in 2010, instead of cutting a consent decree deal with Cliff’s Erie and letting the taconite industry off the hook for a mere $58,000. 

The public can have no confidence that a water-polluting sulfide mining industry would ever be held any more accountable than the taconite industry has been in Minnesota. Agency capture and legislative interference in our state is rampant.

“Health in all policies”

In 2016, determined to protect the health of Minnesotans, the MAFP petitioned the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to amend Minnesota Rules to require a HIA for sulfide mining projects in Minnesota; and there the petition apparently sits. The EQB appears unable or unwilling to initiate a rule-making change to protect the children of Minnesota—or at least not before PolyMet gets permitted. And PolyMet would set the standard for every other sulfide mine.  

The petition is the reasonable, logical response to major health risks posed by sulfide mining in a water-intensive complex unlike any in the nation. Its watersheds flow to Lake Superior, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and Voyageurs National Park; its myriad waterways are beloved by thousands of people who call the region home. Their health, and that of their families, depends on maintaining and protecting the quality of the air they breathe and the water they drink—on protecting the region’s sole-source aquifer.

As the MAFP succinctly stated in its petition: “The Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officially espouse a ‘health in all policies’ approach to governance. To make this a reality and resolve any potential conflicts, we need to put these words into action. We petition under Minnesota Statutes 14.09 and Minnesota Rule 1400.2040 that Chapter 4410 be amended to require that human health impacts be specifically analyzed in an independently produced HIA. This step would ensure that human health impacts are rigorously analyzed, along with environmental, economic, employment and sociological impacts.”

Without an independent HIA, PolyMet’s draft permit to mine is nothing more than the product of a corrupt political system. Minnesota’s agencies, legislators, and governor are failing Minnesotans, especially our children. It is indefensible to “risk” the health of those who cannot speak for themselves. While at the same time denying them the right to the utmost protection. 

This unfathomable disregard for public health and safety from our government agencies—whose purpose it is to protect us—should raise the gravest concerns about the control of big money over our politicians. Deliberate theft of a child’s health and intellect is bought at what incalculable cost. 

A child’s future is the world’s future.