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We are studying environmental issues related to mining, and potential mining, in the Great Lakes region, continuing the study of characterizing baseline geochemistry of several watersheds in Minnesota and Michigan, examining the potential for aquatic toxicity from metals, and examining the acid-neutralizing and acid-generating potentials of mine waste, and the environmental, and possible human health, effects of waste generated by past iron mining and steel-making.
The Lake Superior region is the focus of widespread mineral exploration and startup mining activity, due to its promising geologic settings for more deposits of minerals critical to the U.S. economy. However, local communities have concern about potential for environmental harm caused by mining, as some past mining activities here have impacted water quality. Concerns are often voiced about the dangers of “sulfide mining". This is an over-simplified perception of mining. This region has a unique climate, and the landscape is dominated by lakes, rivers and wetlands. Preventing environmental impact requires full consideration of the influences of geology, hydrology, climate, mining methods, ore-processing methods, and continued evolution of environmental management practices on environmental risks of unique deposit types. Our science looks beyond acid-generating potential of the ores, and includes the assessment of potential risks to human health and aquatic ecosystems from trace metals.
Watershed Baseline Chemistry and Copper Toxicity Study: We will determine the pre-mining chemistry of watersheds near copper-nickel-platinum group element deposits in Minnesota, and copper deposits in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Two methods have been used by regulatory agencies in this region to assess copper toxicity to aquatic organisms; these include calculating water quality criteria based on hardness and based on the Biotic Ligand Model. We will compare the predictions of potential toxicity from both methods at sites in Minnesota and Michigan. Next, we will evaluate our predictions, based on the results from toxicity tests done in collaboration with the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center.
Iron Life Cycle Studies: We will analyze and help predict the source, transport, and fate of products from iron mining in the Gogebic Range of northern Michigan and Wisconsin, and from iron and steelmaking slag in the Chicago region of Illinois and Indiana. Analyses will include:
Mine Waste Prediction: We will determine how potential mine waste from mining deposits in the Duluth Complex (northeastern Minnesota) may release trace elements into the environment, and inform communities and stakeholders of best mine waste management practices. We will also refine our ability to predict (via mineralogical and chemical studies, as well as reaction pathway geochemical modeling) the potential for silicate minerals in the Duluth Complex ore to neutralize acid. Rocks that host the mineralization in the Complex (and will become the waste during mining) are unusual, in that
However, there is potential for beneficial acid-neutralization from the silicate minerals that make up most of the rock hosting the metals of interest.
Completed Activity - Environmental Geochemistry to Evaluate Risks Associated with Past and Future Mining in the Lake Superior Region
This project was a geoenvironmental assessment to support development of responsible mining methods in the unique Lake Superior region. This benefitted all stakeholders in decision-making regarding future mining: land managers, the mining industry, regulatory agencies, non-government organizations, and citizens. We studied the two kinds of deposits most likely to be developed here:
Examples of environmental problems we addressed:
Our results make the planning and permitting process for future mines more efficient, and facilitate a scientifically sound dialog about future mining. Project accomplishments include:
Return to Mineral Resources Program
Below are data releases associated with this project.
Below are multimedia items associated with this project.
Below are publications associated with this project.
Below are news stories associated with this project.
Slag. Depending on where you’re from, it may be an insult, a term meaning trash, or, in our case, the waste left over from metal smelting or refining...
In addition to the USGS Columbia Environmental Resource Center and Water Science Centers in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, below are external partners associated with this project.