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Native American Tribes Call for Cleaner Water from Mines

Michigan's Upper Peninsula has abundant mineral resources. More than a century of mining has created serious environmental contamination. Photo, courtesy NASA
Michigan's Upper Peninsula has abundant mineral resources. More than a century of mining has created serious environmental contamination. Photo, courtesy NASA
April 26, 2013

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan's Upper Peninsula has a storied history of mining.

From iron ore to gold, the mining legacy has left both positive and negative impacts on the region.

But a new report says pollution caused by hard rock mining has disproportionately harmed Native American tribes.

The National Wildlife Federation report says more than a century of mining operations have contaminated fish and other native wildlife that are a major part of Native American culture.

Chuck Brumleve, an environmental mining specialist with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, says the UP is now the largest superfund site in the United States.

"We have miles and miles of tailings along our waterways internal to the peninsula as well as along the shores of Lake Superior," he says.

The NWF report calls on President Barack Obama to close loopholes in the Federal Clean Water Act that allow mining operations to dump waste directly into wetlands, stream and lakes.

The changes to the Clean Water Act could be made by the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers without congressional approval.

Brumleve says the loopholes also allow Michigan to set its own rules on environmental mining standards.

He says acid commonly used to dissolve minerals in the rock pose major problems when it leaches out of mine tailings.

"The state only requires five years of follow-up water treatment,” he adds. “And yet, we know from experience that acid mine drainage frequently doesn't even start for 50 years. This creates a source of contaminants to Lake Superior for generations to come."






Rob South, Public News Service - MI