Tuesday, December 22, 2009

US Court of Appeals Rules on Minnesota Asbestos Standards

The Eighth Court of Appeals has issued a ruling on a case regarding the North Shore Mining Company and the standards for asbestos exposure levels in the state of Minnesota. The case centers on a measure known as the "control city standard". This standard calls for atmospheric fiber levels at the North Shore Mining facility in the town of Silver Bay to be no higher than those measured in "control city". St. Paul, the state capital, is the control city against which such measurements are taken in Minnesota.
The court's ruling dictates that, while the control city standard will still apply for any permit requirements for the facility, it will not be part of any injunction issued by the federal government. In short, the court ruled that state pollution standards are an issue for the states, not for federal authorities, while keeping the current standard intact.
The state agency responsible for environmental issues has called for testing the air quality around the state's taconite mines before issuing permits. The state also wants firms to use the best technology available for testing and potential remediation on such sites to keep the measures of airborne asbestos at or below the control city level. The control city standard came about due to a federal ruling made in 1974. Recently, that ruling has been dismissed, which prompted attorneys for North Shore to move that the control city standard be disregarded as a criterion for permits.
No definitive statements have been made to see if North Shore has either the legal grounds or the inclination to plead their case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Officials with both North Shore and their parent firm have stated on numerous occasions that the fibers freed from the raw ore in the process of making the taconite pellets are not related to asbestos and do not pose a menace to the health of the surrounding population.
Fibers similar to asbestos have been detected in the air around the north shore of Lake Superior for several decades. Another federal court ruling prohibited the company, then known as Reserve Mining, from dumping waste rock into the lake. Previous studies had shown that a high concentration of taconite fibers in water could lead to health problems. In response, the firm began dumping its waste rock into landfills.
An investigation into cancer diagnoses in the area has uncovered a remarkably high incidence rate of lung cancer, mesothelioma and other lung disorders in that portion of the state. Researchers from the University of Minnesota School of Medicine are conducting a study on miners in the Iron Range area to determine why a high percentage of workers in the area's taconite plants have developed these diseases.
Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the environmental group Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, stated that he favored the court's ruling. Although he was disappointed that the grounds for the federal standard were dismissed, Mr. Laszweski was pleased that the effect of keeping the control city standard was still in place, even if the implementation was to be at the state level.

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