Penokee Hills Mining Controversy
12:38 pm
Tue October 8, 2013

Penokee Asbestos Worries Grow

Asbestos found in rock near a proposed iron mine is raising questions about mine safety, especially for workers.  

Grunerite is found in various parts of Northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  The above sample was photographed at the Michigamme Mine in Marquette County.
Grunerite is found in various parts of Northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The above sample was photographed at the Michigamme Mine in Marquette County.
Credit Leon Hupperichs

A Northland College professor says he found a mineral called grunerite sandwiched between layers of iron ore. 

Geoscience Professor Tom Fitz says grunerite does not always take the form of the long slender fibers that characterize asbestos.  But he says in this case, it does. 

“And there is a lot of it at this one sampling location.  It’s a major component of the rock.  In some of these light colored layers, it’s probably 60 percent of the rock.” 

DNR analysis has also verified the presence of asbestos form minerals in the area.  Fitz says when asbestos dust is inhaled, the fibers stick in the lungs.  It’s linked to a form of cancer called mesothelioma. 

“Definitely occupational exposure to this stuff is a big deal.  And it has to be understood how much of it is at the site – it’s definitely present up here at bulk sample site 4.  It’s really not known how extensive it is though.”

DNR hydrogeologist Larry Lynch says Gogebic Taconite’s application for a mining permit would have to account for the asbestos.  The DNR is still considering GTac’s application for bulk sampling.  It would explode and remove four thousand tons of rock - which critics say is also an opportunity for asbestos exposure.