Health Concerns Over Mining in Minnesota


Today’s guest blog about the #6 Boundary Waters- a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series- is from Carla Arneson, a retired teacher and local resident of Ely, Minnesota.


Take Action to Protect the
Boundary Waters

Tell Congress to keep the Boundary Waters safe for future generations!

Our waters are not all that is at stake in the campaign to protect the Kawishiwi River and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The health of our children also depends on our success. In Minnesota’s labyrinth of wetlands, streams, rivers, and lakes, contamination spreads easily through the faulted bedrock. Taconite mining has already left its grim legacy, even as every operating mine fails to meet state standards. Adding to the problem, recently proposed copper-nickel (sulfide) mining will likely have far greater impacts.

Taconite mines and the coal-fired power plants that run them contaminate surface water and groundwater, pollute the air, and bombard our children with neurotoxins, including mercury and manganese. Sulfide mining, proposed for both the Lake Superior and the Kawishiwi watersheds, would doom generations of our children to incalculable toxicity from its monumental waste. Proposed sulfide mining in Minnesota equates to 99% waste for 1% metals— waste that would require perpetual treatment. In other words, this problem will never go away.

Northeastern Minnesota is in trouble. According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), when compared to all rural regions of the state, northeastern Minnesota has the:

  • Highest rate for asthma hospitalization and emergency department visits
  • Highest Alzheimer’s rate over age 65
  • Highest mortality rates for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes; and
  • Highest overall mortality rate.

The MDH has also recently verified the link between mesothelioma and taconite mining— finally.

Furthermore, a 2012 study by the MDH found that 10% of newborns tested in the Lake Superior Basin of Minnesota carry toxic levels of mercury in their blood; a criminal burden inflicted on our children by industry. Taconite mining is the largest source of sulfates in Minnesota’s Lake Superior Watershed and of mercury in the Lake Superior Basin; combined they orchestrate methylmercury accumulation in fish. Pregnant mothers eat those fish. Research is also beginning to point to a possible connection between autism and methylmercury, as well as other neurotoxic metals.

In such a context, sulfide mining proposed for two major watersheds in northeastern Minnesota is dire. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports, “For fetuses, infants, and children, the primary health effect of methylmercury is impaired neurological development. Methylmercury exposure in the womb… can adversely affect a baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Impacts on cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills have been seen in children exposed to methylmercury in the womb.”

In a 2012 CNN report, “Protecting Babies from Neurotoxins,” it was stated, “One study estimates that for each part per million of mercury found in a mother’s hair—a common way of testing for mercury exposure— her child loses approximately 0.18 IQ points.” In Minnesota, it appears the majority of our legislators consider it acceptable that the price of metals is the diminished IQ of our children.

Lend your voice to this effort to protect the Boundary Waters and the South Kawishiwi River! Please tell President Obama and Congress to protect this special place from copper-nickel mines!