PolyMet Sulfide Mine: 15 Generations of Impact

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How long after a mine is fished mining should we be dealing with the pollution from that mine?  That’s the question you have to ask yourself when looking at the proposed PolyMet sulfide mine.  After 20 years of mining and jobs in the community, how many years of pollution afterwards make that worth it?  Should it affect your kids? Grandkids?  Many Native Americans think about their effects for the next seven generations. How about effecting the next fifteen generations?

500 Years

Five hundred years is the modeled continued treatment and maintenance of the processing plant planned for northern Minnesota.  That’s according to the Minnesota environmental review (NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. ES-11)

PolyMet defends these modeling numbers as not relevant but they say the following.

“Scientists determined the amount of potential leakage to be relatively small (about the flow of a 5/8-inch garden hose) and the rate of travel to be slow (about 3 inches per day) to these respective points, so the extended timeframes (200 years in one case and 500 years in the other) were needed in the models to represent the maximum potential impacts at the reference points.” GoPolyMet.com

The reason they had to model out so far is because the waste pond would only leak slightly.  The waste ponds would be there for 500 years is the best case scenario.  If they leak more they will not be around for 500 years.

If everything goes according to plan, Polymet Mining Corporation will be around for the next 500 years holding vigil over the waste they will create over the next 20 years.  PolyMet will not falter or split off non profitable parts to be scrapped later.  In the year 2620 some workers at PolyMet will turn the lights out at the mine saying “Took 500 years but we did it without any environmental damage.” while patting each other on the back.

No. It will not happen.  No mining company will last that long, not with bad legacy costs like cleaning up a mine for 500 years.  It will eventual be at taxpayers’ expense if at all.  PolyMet will walk away making profits while they can and walk away as soon as they can.  PolyMet is just doing what any good company should do, maximize profits.

If you think the 500 years is a red herring, look at the other numbers that are not in dispute. (From table 7.2-1 of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement)

  • 912.5 acres of wetland directly affected, 7,350.7 acres indirectly affected
  • 1,401.0-acre net decrease of floodplains to the federal estate
  • 4,016.3-acre decrease in vegetation
  • Special concern plant species: nine directly affected, two indirectly affected
  • 4,016.3-acre decrease of wildlife habitat
  • Greater than 90% of water would be captured and treated to a concentration at or below applicable water quality evaluation criteria. (Meaning up to 10% of water will not be treated)

It is the job of citizens and the government to make sure that the impact of the sulfide mine is within reasonable levels.  It is not reasonable to measure impact of a mine in decades, much less centuries.

Five hundred years, twice as long as the United States has been around, is not a length of time any company can commit to.  Companies should not be able to profit off of pollution.  Save our true natural resources, the wetlands, species, trees, rivers, and lakes.  Those things we can profit from for those five hundred years.

Toby Sterling

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