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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Open-pit Mining, Zoning and Quality of Life

By Andrew RobbinSpecial to CSMS MagazineIn its January 2006 Mineral Commodity Summaries the U.S. Geological Survey released the following: “The industrial sand and gravel industry continued to be concerned with safety and health regulations and environmental restrictions in 2005. … These situations are expected to cause future sand and gravel operations to be located far from high-population centers.”Combine modern science with occupational medicine, and they alert us to the health danger of living near an aggregate mine. Decades ago sand and gravel quarries opened far from population centers. Health and safety concerns were restricted to mine employees. Today “urban sprawl” has encroached upon these once isolated properties.I toured one of these facilities. Its mine activities include dynamiting ore and milling (crushing, screening, and sorting) aggregate. The blasting and milling are a constant source of mineral debris–particulate and fiber–released into surrounding neighborhoods’ breathable air. Minerals drift with the wind in a radius of twenty miles from the milling operation. Many open-pit mines contain minerals such as silica, silicate, or asbestos.Municipal governments obsessed with–annexation and tax revenue–banish sound science in their quest to perpetuate “urban sprawl”. Quality of life issues, especially air quality, demand leadership that recognizes the danger of commingling neighborhoods, school grounds, and recreational areas with a community’s industrial base. Open-pit mines must be restricted to industrial-zoned areas purposely located far from population centers.Over 4,000 minerals are registered and not one is safe to inhale. Forty percent of the earth’s crust contains one, or more, of the six regulated asbestos minerals. Thus, you have a forty-percent chance of encountering asbestos every time the earth is disturbed. And, this percentage will increase when “richterite” and “winchite” are added to the asbestos mineral registry.Exposure to “richterite” and “winchite” results in the same illnesses caused by exposure to other forms of asbestos. Never think that you are immune to these illnesses. Massive amounts of vermiculite, which contained tremolite asbestos, richterite, and winchite, were shipped from Libby, Montana to every major population center in the United States for use as insulation and soil enhancement materials. Yet, for more than ten years Congress has debated and failed to add these two minerals to the asbestos registry.In industrial hygiene we are well-aware that the earlier in age one is exposed, and the greater one’s exposure, the greater the risk of developing illness. For life-long health, one wants to reduce mineral exposures to the lowest possible level. When encountering high-risk minerals (silica, silicate, and asbestos), there is no safe level of exposure. The safe level is nil, and anything above the safe level represents certain risk. ALL “mineral” illnesses resulting in cancer, silicosis, asbestosis, and mesothelioma were preventable. Victims of these illnesses were exposed to “mineral” carcinogens.To curb burgeoning medical treatment cost, communities must distance population centers from their industrial base. A community’s “quality of life” and health of its citizens demand leadership with vision to separate residential neighborhoods from industrial activities–where neither ever adjoin. Failure to separate subjects the populace to decades of illness.Andrew Robbins is the author of “It Took My Breath Away: One Man’s Experience May Save Your Life. He is our new contributor.” He lives in Minnesota.

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