Copper Mining Tailings Ponds are not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things (and Neither are Hydrofluoric Acid Storage Tanks)
An Open Letter to the Affected Mayors, City Councilors and Assorted Thought Leaders who Inhabit the Areas Downstream and Downwind
The first (of many) junior mining company that wants to mine copper in northeast Minnesota’s water-rich, relatively unspoiled forest and lakes region is the PolyMet Mining Corporation that is headquartered in Toronto, Canada.
PolyMet is a Canadian Penny Stock mining company that you can buy on the NYSE for 81 cents a share. It’s peak share price over the past 12 months was $1.36 a share, but it isn’t on anybody “buy” list at the moment.
PolyMet has never mined anything in its life and has never earned a single penny producing anything of value. It is a front group for Glencore, a multinational mining, commodities and oil and gas trading company that is based in Switzerland. Both groups prefer remaining hidden behind boardroom walls. PolyMet’s daily operations are totally funded by mostly greedy institutional investors and loans from deep-pocketed Glencore. Neither corporation should have any credibility in the minds of right-thinking individuals. I will explain that stance later in the column.
In January 2011, Glencore and PolyMet, signed a secret agreement that guaranteed that Glencore could buy controlling interest in the company with the right to convert the company’s debt into equity. It is public knowledge that Glencore also has the rights to sell all the metal that is mined at PolyMet’s NorthMet mine site in the world’s markets for the first 5 years of production.
Contrary to PolyMet’s talking points about being good citizens by producing copper for all of our needs, none of the copper that is mined by PolyMet might ever be utilized in America.
Glencore, at its inception in the 1970s, was called Marc Rich & Co. The company’s founder was the late, lamented American millionaire Marc Rich, who is famous for having been, along with his wife, a loyal Bill and Hillary Clinton campaign “contributor”. He is also infamous for having been convicted and sentenced for tax evasion and trading with the enemy, penalties that he did not have to endure. Following his convictions, Rich exiled himself to Switzerland and remained in exile even after being pardoned of his crimes on January 20, 2001 the last day of Clinton’s presidency.
At any rate, the since-deceased Rich’s Glencore is still a multinational corporation that has a sordid history of human rights abuses, union-busting, the use of paramilitary assassins/enforcers, the use of child labor and widespread mining operation pollution of the soil, groundwater, aquifers, streams, rivers, lakes and assorted downstream, downwind communities in every country that it has gotten (legal or illegal) rights to operate mines.
Glencore has never, ever been a good neighbor to the citizens of the countries that have been bamboozled into allowing it inside their territory. Glencore has consistently left behind toxic messes that it has refused to be responsible for when clean-up of the spoiled environment needs to be done. The company has never been a good employer either, breaking up all attempts of the employees to unionize. And yet, thanks to cunning propagandistic promises of jobs, jobs, jobs Glencore still reliably gets so-called enlightened states like Minnesota to invite it in to mine and to pollute.
Politicians and the leaders in Minnesota, many of whom represent folks who live along the St Louis River are all aglow with the prospect of having 300 temporary miners working upstream from Lake Superior, and it seems that nobody is looking through the propaganda at the real risks.
When a logical person looks honestly at the tremendous downsides of copper/nickel/sulfide mining in a water-rich environment like northeast Minnesota, a bunch of red flags should start waving.
For clear-headed thinkers that aren’t under the influence of corporate paymasters, it is obvious that the many mining companies salivating over Minnesota’s mineral deposits cannot possibly fulfill their empty promises of doing what no mining company has ever done in the history of the world: safely mining and processing copper or any other kind of sulfide ore and then safely storing for an eternity the millions of cubic meters of toxic mine tailings in massive tailings ponds where the toxic metallic slurry will have to be contained behind 250 foot tall soluble earthen dams that are certain to both leak and breach sometime in the uncertain future.
PolyMet’s proposed tailings dam is located at the headwaters of the St Louis River, a still fishable, drinkable, wild rice-growable but very vulnerable river that flows through a dozen river towns before it empties into Lake Superior right between Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin.
Toxic waste metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, vanadium, antimony, manganese and mercury tend to be found in sulfide ore. The ore in copper mining operations is ground up into fine, sand-like slurry in order for it to be processed nearby. The waste product, which represents over 99.5%of the total is pumped to the tailings pond. When the sulfide-containing ore is exposed to water and oxygen in the pond or in in the walls of the open pit, some of it is converted to sulfuric acid., hence the term acid mine drainage.
None of those poisonous waste metals are currently toxifying the St Louis River estuary because there are, as of yet, no open pit copper mines, no underground copper mines and no copper mine tailings ponds upstream. However, if PolyMet is granted the permits to mine by ignorant or bribed bureaucrats at the state or national levels, all three of those structures will be serious threats to the entire environment all the way to Lake Superior.
Multinational Corporations Like Glencore are Sociopaths
In order to accurately identify the threats to Minnesota, it is important to point out that most if not all multinational corporations meet the parameters of what psychologists define as sociopathic entities. Here is a list of some of the traits:
1) Sociopaths exhibit a pervasive pattern of disregard for the rights of others. They tend to believe that they are exceptional beings, whether it be their religion, racial origin, nationality, gender or the color of their skin.
2) Sociopaths fail to conform to social norms such as honesty, kindness, truthfulness, humility, neighborliness, moral/ethical behaviors, straightforwardness, non-injury to others, etc.
3) Sociopaths repeatedly perform acts that may be grounds for arrest.
4) Sociopaths tend to be deceitful, serial liars, rapists, bullies, racists, megalomaniacs, and are always looking for opportunities to con others for profit or pleasure. They therefore do not deserve to be trusted.
5) Sociopaths are often aggressive or impulsive and have a reckless disregard for the safety of others or the environment.
6) Sociopaths often fail to act responsibly. A good example is their tendency to refuse to honor their financial obligations.
7) Sociopaths exhibit a lack of remorse for their own wrong-doing (such as lying, thievery, mistreatment of other, pollution, etc.
8) Sociopaths are often indifferent to the suffering of others.
It should be obvious that human sociopaths that intrude on our personal lives need to be avoided and even shunned. So should corporate (or governmental) sociopaths be trusted, even if their executives and negotiators wear three-piece suits?
Being Bamboozled by Sociopathic Corporations
Sadly, the PolyMet/Glencore sociopathic entities seem to have bamboozled Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency (PCA), the US Forest Service, the US Army Corps of Engineers, Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), Minnesota’s two US DFL Senators Klobuchar and Smith, every Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, etc. Most of the above, it can be assumed, are financially and politically influenced by extractive corporations who have ulterior motives and their wealthy executives.
But the financial influence of campaign contributors/bribers and/or assorted paymasters does not generally influence small-town civic leaders like mayors, city council members, local business owners and local newspaper owners that live in the many St Louis River river towns that are positioned directly downstream from PolyMet/Glencore’s proposed 250 foot-tall soluble earthen dam. Most of small town leaders are mainly – and logically - interested in ensuring the survival of their communities. However, many are so blinded by that reality that they are not interested to totally comprehend the many downsides or having a sociopathic toxic polluter operating with very little oversight directly upstream.
The object of this open letter (which I hope will be passed on to all of those in positions of power and influence who need to reconsider their prior approval of the PolyMet project.
It needs to be repeated over and over again that the PolyMet tailings lagoon’s earthen dam can not be expected to survive the essentially annual deluge of rainstorms that can easily and unpredictable overtop the earthen dam and/or dissolve the soil that is used to build them.
It must re reiterated that contained behind the dam for an eternity will be tens of millions of cubic meters of a liquid slurry of highly toxic heavy metals, sulfuric acid and other poisonous substances situated directly upstream from a dozen river towns, parts of which could easily be seriously damaged, poisoned and perhaps washed off the face of the map, as has happened in many examples of tailings dam failures world-wide. It needs to be emphasized that when tailings dam water washes suddenly downstream, the river and/r lake bottoms are permanently coated by a layer of the toxic sludge and all aquatic life forms are in danger of being killed off.
Of course, the residents of the towns both in the vicinity and downstream from copper mining tailings ponds naturally want enhanced employment, but every resident of every town that has been destroyed by sudden tailings pond breaches have all come to regret being in favor of allowing uncaring, sociopathic foreign mining corporations to extract their mineral resources. These previously pro-mining residents of destroyed towns also are angered when they see the mining companies high-tailing it out of town when the lawsuits start being filed.
Most of the clear-headed copper/sulfide mine skeptics understand that foreign corporations are sociopathic and therefore are not to be trusted. Most copper/sulfide skeptics complain mightily that are ignored by their congresspersons, their governor or their mayors, all of whom are seen as being bamboozled by the well-propagandized, but very dubious promises of jobs and mine safety. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and it is no different with bribed politicians once they get into positions of power and a corporate-friencly bill comes up for a vote.
Learning the Lessons of the Flood of 2014 and the Husky Refinery Catastrophe of 2018
If one remembers the lower St Louis River area flood of 2014, one can be thankful that that environmental catastrophe was only from who knows how many billions of cubic meters of fresh rain and river water that eroded a lot of soil, thus discoloring and dirtying Lake Superior.
But the deluge of water in 2014 was not contaminated sludge that had lethal metals and other toxins from copper mine tailings ponds that is capable of poisoning everything it comes in contact with, especially if a person or even an animal inhales it or swallows it or is immersed in it.
Toxic sludge from any source that gets into lakes and stream can permanently settle on the bottom, which is where fish need to spawn, where crayfish need to live and above which people want to swim without fear of being poisoned. The toxic effluent coming from copper mines tailings ponds will adversely affect the downstream wild rice, the waterfowl, and essentially all aquatic life. And, equally importantly, the contaminated downstream water can never confidently be remediated at any price, surely not by the totally theoretical “reverse osmosis” tripe that the PolyMet people so disingenuously wanted to sell to us last year. Not even a trillion dollars would be enough to cover the costs of remediation of the St Louis river towns should a massive tailings pond destroy the river as feared. And no sane insurance company would be willing to indemnify PolyMet or Glencore for being willing to take such a risk.
Please study my recent Duty to Warn column about the many catastrophic tailings dam failures pictured in the April 16, 2018 edition of the Duluth Reader. Every one of those catastrophes resulted in the deaths of aquatic creatures downstream.
Please take seriously the above truthful information, discuss this information honestly with your constituents and then, if there is enough doubt in your mind, courageously announce your change of mind and contact everybody in your sphere of influence, especially your congresspersons, the DNR, the PCA, the Forest Service, etc. Consider forwarding this article to others and direct them to the many informative articles written by several copper mine skeptics in the Reader over the past several years. They are available in the Reader’s archives.
I and a lot of copper mine skeptics are fellow river town dwellers who want the St Louis River to remain healthy and sacred. Everybody who lives along the river also loves northeast Minnesota’s water-rich environment but not everybody understands the risks and preventability of upstream mining disasters. The unpredictable catastrophic upstream dam breaches are at high risk of happening, but they are totally preventable. All Minnesota has to do is deny the undocumented foreign mining companies access to our beloved state.
My hometown of Duluth and my sister city of Superior are on opposite sides of the St Louis River at its mouth. Both cities are St Louis River towns that, simply because of blind luck, escaped a massive catastrophe at Superior’s Husky Refinery last week. The catastrophe did seriously affected less-populated regions south of Superior that weren’t as lucky like most of us. Most of Superior and all of Duluth escaped the toxic plume of heavy smoke only because the wind was blowing from the north and not from the east. Being downwind of such a disaster depends on the vagaries of the weather, and if the plume had had hydrofluoric acid in it, as it easily could have, there could have been huge losses of life, health and livelihood.
Because Duluth and Superior dodged a bullet, both mayors and both city councils now understand the risks of having lethal toxic entities upwind and next door. These community leaders are entirely correct to insist that Husky engage in actions to immediately reduce the threats of future community catastrophes down to zero, even if the corporation objects and the level of employment be adversely affected. Some risks are too great to be tolerated.
The PolyMet tailings lagoon question is not that much different than the question of allowing Husky to continue to have a highly lethal hydrofluoric acid storage tank so close to Superior’s and Duluth’s civilian populations, not to mention Lake Superior.
PolyMet and Husky are disasters waiting to happen and it is easy to see how helpless mine and refinery operators are when accidents happen. The weather dictates what happens downstream in a rain deluge and what happens downwind when toxic plumes get into the air. Everybody knows that 100-year climate events like rain deluges are happening every few years. Dumb luck cannot be relied upon to protect anybody. Preventive action must be taken to reduce the risks.
PolyMet, their investors, the bribed politicians and the areas Chambers of Commerce may, if they are not already sociopaths, may be willing to voluntarily withdraw their request for permission to mine for copper in northeast Minnesota. But don’t hold your breath, because true sociopathic entities won’t listen to reason when their investments and intentions to exploit others is threatened.
Sociopathic entities have to be dealt with as the liars and bullies that they are. Liars and half-truth-tellers must be exposed and dealt with by force of law.
The corporations that northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin are being forced to deal with right now are both recklessly endangering the futures, the lives and the health of the people of our two states. The situations we are being confronted with are too dangerous to ignore anymore.
And just like war, copper mine tailings ponds and hydrofluoric acid storage tanks are not healthy for children and other living things.