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Taconite Iron Mining in Wisconsin: A Review

Taconite Iron Mining in Wisconsin: A Review

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A report on taconite mining and its possible environmental impacts in Wisconsin, as prepared by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
A report on taconite mining and its possible environmental impacts in Wisconsin, as prepared by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

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Published by: adamehirsch on Jan 13, 2014
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01/18/2014

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T
ACONITE IRON MINING IN
W
ISCONSIN
:
 
A
 
R
EVIEW
 
Cory McDonald
1
, Brandy Baker-Muhich
1
, Tom Fitz
2
, Paul Garrison
1
, Jordan Petchenik 
1
, Paul Rasmussen
1
, Robert Thiboldeaux
3
, William Walker
1
, and Carl Watras
1
19 December, 2013
1
 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Science Services
2
 Department of Geology, Northland College
3
 Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health
 
i
T
ABLE OF
C
ONTENTS
 
List of Figures ............................................................................................................................................................................ ii List of Tables .............................................................................................................................................................................. ii Environmental Summary .................................................................................................................................................... iii 1. Introduction ..................................................................................................................................................................... 1
 
1.1. History of iron mining in Wisconsin ............................................................................................................ 1
 
1.2.
 
Geology of Iron-bearing Formations ............................................................................................................ 3
 
1.3.
 
The Taconite Mining Process .......................................................................................................................... 9
 
2. Environmental and Ecological Considerations ................................................................................................ 14
 
2.1.
 
Hydrology .............................................................................................................................................................. 15
 
2.2.
 
Potential Pollutants ........................................................................................................................................... 18
 
2.3.
 
Aquatic Ecology ................................................................................................................................................... 31
 
3.
 
Human Health Considerations ............................................................................................................................... 32
 
3.1. Health Risks Related to Air Quality ............................................................................................................. 32
 
3.2.
 
Health Risks Related to Drinking Water Quality ................................................................................... 34
 
3.3.
 
Potential Impacts on Food Safety and Availability ............................................................................... 37
 
4.
 
Socioeconomic Considerations .............................................................................................................................. 38
 
4.1.
 
Sociocultural Considerations ........................................................................................................................ 38
 
4.2. Economics ............................................................................................................................................................. 43
 
5.
 
Water Quality Monitoring ........................................................................................................................................ 52
 
5.1.
 
Objectives .............................................................................................................................................................. 52
 
5.2.
 
Monitoring Design ............................................................................................................................................. 52
 
5.3. Analysis .................................................................................................................................................................. 54
 
5.4.
 
Groundwater Monitoring ................................................................................................................................ 54
 
6.
 
Laboratory Methods ................................................................................................................................................... 56
 
6.1.
 
Toxicity Analysis ................................................................................................................................................. 57
 
6.2.
 
Waste Characterization ................................................................................................................................... 59
 
7.
 
Annotated Bibliography ............................................................................................................................................ 60 Appendix A: Resources for Methods of Social Inquiry ........................................................................................... 92
 
Appendix B: Equivalence Tests ........................................................................................................................................ 94
 
Appendix C: Overview of relevant analytical methods .......................................................................................... 95
 
 
ii
F
IGURES
 
Figure 1. Historical iron mining activities in Wisconsin and additional known iron ore reserves ....... 1
 
Figure 2. Reclaimed site of the former Jackson County iron mine near Black River Falls, WI.. .............. 3
 
Figure 3. Aeromagnetic map of Wisconsin ................................................................................................................... 5
 
Figure 4. Geologic cross section of the Penokee Range near Upson, Wisconsin ........................................... 7
 
Figure 5. Drilling operations in preparation for surface blasting at the Minntac mine ............................. 9
 
Figure 6. The Empire and Tilden mine pits near Ishpeming, MI. ....................................................................... 10
 
Figure 7. Schematic of taconite mining process........................................................................................................ 11
 
Figure 8. Tailings basin at Keetac (Keewatin, MN) .................................................................................................. 12
 
Figure 9. Major watersheds adjacent to the Penokee-Gogebic Iron Range ................................................... 15
 
Figure 10. Simplified diagram of potential hydrologic alterations associated with the various stages of a taconite mining operation ......................................................................................................................................... 16
 
Figure 11. Average concentrations of sulfate in the St. Louis River watershed .......................................... 21
 
Figure 12. Percentage of mercury releases from different sectors in the Lake Superior basin ............ 22
 
Figure 13. The aquatic mercury cycle in a representative Wisconsin lake ................................................... 25
 
Figure 14. Theoretical relationship between mercury methylation rate (MMR) and two key substrates, inorganic mercury and sulfate .................................................................................................................. 26
 
Figure 15. An array of humidity cells in the rinsing phase and an individual humidity cell containing greenstone rock ...................................................................................................................................................................... 58
 
T
ABLES
 
Table 1. Water resources within the Gogebic District of northern Wisconsin ............................................ 14
 
Table 2. Sulfide minerals detected in more than one sample from the Tyler formation ......................... 19
 
Table 3. Annual mercury emissions attributable to taconite processing in nine facilites in northeastern Minnesota ..................................................................................................................................................... 23
 
Table 4. Hg concentrations (ng g
-1
) from taconite mining operations in Minnesota ................................. 24
 
Table 5. Municipalities near the Penokee Range ...................................................................................................... 46
 
Table 6. Bad River Reservation Census Designated Places .................................................................................. 46
 
Table 7. Personal Income by Sector, Ashland County, 2001 and 2011 ........................................................... 47
 
Table 8. Wisconsin Natural Resources State Statutes and Administrative Codes relevant to taconite mining ....................................................................................................................................................................... 56
 

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