Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tinklenberg's Taconite: Rumor or not?

Recently, the Tinklenberg Campaign sent an email filled with denial.

Denials of Tinklenberg's federal lobby work and endorsements were filled with rhetoric.

Tinklenberg also fully denies any negative impact from taconite tailings.

The second issue had to do with taconite tailings, a by-product of iron mining, and speculation that I was involved in a project that was potentially exposing people to asbestos and the resulting cancer risk.

This is a horrible accusation and particularly so because my first wife died of cancer and I would never be involved in anything that would expose others to the misery my family went through. This is a rumor that was invented two years ago by a staffer for the Wetterling campaign and I believed it had been refuted effectively at that time. I am saddened to see it resurfacing in an attempt to damage my character.

The project I have worked on is sponsored by the University of Minnesota's Natural
Resources Research Institute (NRRI) and is funded by a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Agency. The goal of the project is to conduct additional testing of by-products of taconite mining in the western portion of the iron range for suitability as transportation aggregate. The work is being led by the University.

A secondary goal is to identify potential markets for the use of this material as a transportation aggregate, should the testing support it. That's the work in which I have been involved. The use of these western range materials in this way has consistently been approved by MnDOT, NRRI, the PCA and the EPA. Additional testing and monitoring is ongoing and should any concerns surface, I'm certain the University would suspend the project; an action I would support. For additional information you can contact Larry Zenko at the National Resources Research Institute.

Source: Tinklenberg Campaign email, 3/10/08.

Upon further review, it's actually Larry Zanko. I'm sure it was just a typo, the Tinklenberg Campaign would not intentionally deceive any of us.

What we've found is rather interesting.

Building on previous taconite aggregate research efforts, the NRRI’s Economic Geology Group is leading a comprehensive research and demonstration program that is designed to accelerate the usage of Minnesota’s vast quantities of taconite mining byproducts for construction aggregate purposes. The three-year (2006-2008) program is being supported with $1,250,000 of federal funding from the Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration, and an additional $416,667 of matching funds from the Permanent University Trust Fund, Iron Range Resources, Minnesota Power, the Blandin Foundation, and Minnesota Technology, Inc.

Source: Natural Resources Research Institute

How much of the $1.25 million was Tinklenberg given to market or lobby for taconite tailings?

"This is very important, not just in terms of the economy of the Range here in Minnesota, but the quality of our transportation system throughout the country. We are confident that the quality of the aggregate available in Minnesota’s iron mining area will prove to be a valuable resource for transportation,"said El Tinklenberg, President of the Tinklenberg Group, who has worked with NRRI in developing markets for this aggregate material. "The use of this recycled material also has important environmental benefits."

Source: Congressman Jim Oberstar Press Release, 10/7/2004.

Important environmental benefits? The City Pages had an interesting story called "The microwavable road? A Brave New Highway.

Retired federal judge Miles Lord and former Minnesota Pollution Control Agency chief Grant Merritt seem to have some concerns.

At the Center for Transportation Studies seminar, two old lions of Minnesota's environmental movement--retired federal judge Miles Lord and former Minnesota Pollution Control Agency chief Grant Merritt--raised objections based on the possible health risks. Both Lord and Merritt are concerned because some taconite tailings are known to contain asbestos and asbestos-like fibers. Those fibers, they fear, may be related to the elevated levels of a rare but deadly cancer called mesothelioma on the Iron Range.

From 1988 to 1999, according to a 2003 Minnesota Department of Health study, there were 81 identified cases of mesothelioma among residents of northeastern Minnesota, nearly double the expected rate. For that reason alone, Merritt contends, any use of taconite tailings in highways should be subjected to a full environmental review.

Lord, who issued the landmark 1974 ruling that prohibited the dumping of taconite tailings into Lake Superior, takes a more conspiratorial view. The use of taconite tailings on highways, Lord contends, represents "a deliberate attempt by the taconite industry and its owners, 'Big Steel,' to spread deadly particles on Minnesota highways, thereby making it difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint the cause of cancer deaths on the Iron Range because cancer will occur throughout the state of Minnesota."

Source: City Pages, November 30, 2005.

We can't dump this stuff in Lake Superior but we can use it all over our roads?

Doesn't this conflict with Tinklenberg's statement that "this recycled material also has important environmental benefits"?

Not all within the EPA believe that taconite tailings are 100% safe.

Chrysotile asbestos is the main type of asbestos used in the U.S. Some say it is not a carcinogen. Cook believes that it is a carcinogen. Amphibole crystals are present in taconite (iron ore) from Northeast Minnesota – ferroactinolite replaces hornblende in some rocks with cummingtonitegrunerite being the most common amphibole overall. Ferroactinolite appears to be the amphibole which is most consistently fibrous. Amphibole can’t be extracted from the rock for use, but it has fiber-like characteristics and can be released in dust when the rock is crushed. Particles of chrysotile or amphibole asbestos occur as thin fibers or in bundles that can enter the lungs and cause asbestosis. However, short fibers that can break off of larger rodlike bundles can be respirable, as well. In the past, scientists have tended not to consider the risk from the short fibers, and science today still rests on dose-response relationships based on light microscopy, which was inadequate for detecting short and thin fibers. The assumption was that only the longer and thicker fibers pose a health risk.

Source: EPA Workshop on Emerging Pollutants, August 11-13, 2003, Page 54.

Conflicting views from both the Pollution Control Agency and the EPA.

Minnesota State Senator John Marty has concerns over taconite tailings and the Minnesota Department of Health cover-up.

Why was this failure to release the information about additional miner deaths so harmful? Back in 2003, the Health Department learned that 17 taconite miners had died from mesothelioma, an asbestos-related form of cancer. At that time the department suggested that it was not taconite dust, but the use of commercial asbestos in certain mining operations that caused the cancer. In March of 2006, when the department learned that an additional 35 miners had died from mesothelioma, it appeared more likely that the cause was asbestos-like fibers in taconite dust. This means the risk was not only for workers doing welding or other jobs where asbestos was once used, but virtually every mine worker might be susceptible to this deadly cancer.

-"Some scientists have publicly criticized the findings of (the Health Department's) 2003 study, in which you pinned the mesothelioma cases on commercial asbestos rather than taconite dust....Don't the additional mesothelioma cases call those findings into question?"

Source: To The Point, July 9, 2007. Sen John Marty.

Questions about taconite tailings and cancer are abundant. A definitive study calling taconite tailings 100% safe is missing. A definitive study calling taconite tailings 100% harmful is missing as well. However, enough evidence has been shown that a serious, non-mining industry, public study is warranted.

Recently, Congersswoman Betty McCollum introduced the "Bruce Vento Ban Asbestos and Prevent Meslothelioma Act of 2008".

“It’s long past time that our country banned asbestos,” McCollum said. “After decades of widespread and unknowing exposure to this deadly substance, Americans should be able to rest assured that they are no longer at risk of having their lives cut short by asbestos exposure.”

We couldn't agree more.

Rumor or not? You be the judge.

1 comment:

eric zaetsch said...

One important environmental benefit, it gets the stuff out of Oberstar's environment. A second might apply if proven safe and Elwyn Tinklenberg were to be using it as driveway and landscaping aggregate, cat litter box liner, etc., then we could trust his trust in its safety.

Have you uncovered any indication Elwyn Tinklenberg lets the stuff anywhere near his home and family?