Since 2012, I have spent months researching metal mining each time I prepare to testify at legislative hearings, 4 times total.
I know from all this research and from listening to overwhelming numbers of people testifying in opposition to weak mining rules that Bald Mountain is among the most toxic sites in the United States. I heard stories about workers on the original exploration of the site in the 1970s becoming sick just from the dust of the drilling holes. One broke out in a rash so severe he had to be taken to the emergency room for treatment. I have heard testimony at legislative hearings from Medical Doctors about serious medical effects of open pit mining, effects which sound deadly to me. I heard testimony from environmental scientists about the risks of pollution from arsenic, sulphuric acid, and other toxic chemicals
According to Lance Tapley in ThePhoenix, the geologist who discovered and explored the Bald Mountain site, John. S. Cummings, found “arsenic levels in the rock up to . . . 2.9 million times the level the federal Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for drinking water. . . . In one of his many writings about the mountain, [Cummings] describes [the site] as an enormous, naturally occurring ‘toxic dump.’” In a letter to John Martin in 2012, Cummings said “a large open-pit [mine] . . . is a prescription for a debacle.”
A 2014 industry article that analyzes risks to be managed to increase profitability says, “The metal mining industry is the largest toxic polluter in the U.S.” In addition to water pollution, it is “a significant contributor of [Greenhouse Gas Emissions] and other “Hazardous Air Pollutants” that “have more localized (but significant) human health and environmental impacts.” This pro-mining article talks about managing the risks. It makes no claims about preventing toxic effects.
A report from Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest in Minnesota with a climate similar to Maine’s concludes about the promise of economic benefits, Metal mining earnings and jobs tend to be very volatile, leading to community instability and long-term decline. These are real economic costs associated with metal mining. The metal mining industry is prone to both ‘booms’ and ‘busts’ as well as to a long-term decline in the labor required to produce any given volume of metal ore.”
I looked but couldn’t find any convincing evidence in research or testimony since 2012 that pollution of ground water and toxic wastes can be safely contained in perpetuity at sites like Bald Mountain.
For all these reasons, I can only support a ban on open-pit metal mining or on any underground mine that poses unacceptable risks to water, air, soil, human health, and sustainable socio-economic health of communities. Mining at the Bald Mountain site and other toxic sites in Maine must never be allowed unless or until trustworthy evidence exists that it will be done without risk of catastrophic damage. That evidence does not exist at this time.
Published The Star Herald, March 29, 2017