The company that wants to mine the Penokees for iron ore is disputing recent findings of asbestos-like fibers in minerals there.
Two weeks after Northland College geoscience Professor Tom Fitz found what he called “large concentrations” of grunerite rock containing asbestos-like fibers, Gogebic Taconite wanted to know more. So GTAC, Fitz and a team of geologists toured the Ashland County area last Friday.
Fitz says they found more of the grunerite rock. “It is apparent, when you look at the grunerite, that it is long, slender crystals. Whether you look at that in the field with a hand lens or under a microscope, it is apparent that it is potentially hazardous. That's clear.”
But GTAC spokesman Bob Seitz says more lab work needs to happen before these minerals can be declared hazardous. “They're making a jump from grunerite to asbestos, and there are a lot of facts in between there that just haven't been shown yet,” he said. “We want to take a more cautious approach and take a look at what the actual facts are, do the testing on the samples and not jump to conclusions.”
Fitz agrees they need to find out more about this formation. “There's reason to believe that this is hazardous, and GTAC admits to that, and everyone agrees that there need to be more studies. Really, what isn't determined at all yet is the extent of this stuff. How far east and west does it go along the ridge?”
Fitz is shipping his samples off to laboratories at UW-Madison, the University of Minnesota-Duluth and Lawrence University in Appleton. GTAC says it is also doing microscopic testing, but results won’t be made public until they apply for a mining permit. That could take another year.