Duty to Warn

By Gary G. Kohls, MD – 9-19-2017


To the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), regarding PolyMet’s most recent permitting request: 

(Email address: NorthMetPermitting.DNR@state.mn.us):


Here are my reasons that the DNR should reject PolyMet’s permit applications for their earthen tailings dam, their liquid slurry pipeline pumping operation and their open pit sulfide mine near the headwaters of the St Louis River:

For starters, it is critically important to understand that the foreign Penny Stock company called PolyMet has a current share price of $0.63 per share, down from $1.50 per share in 2014. PolyMet, a total amateur in the business, has never operated a single mine in its short corporate life nor has it earned a single penny from mining. Their only income comes from selling shares to speculators and borrowing money from investors to pay their executives and employees. In addition, PolyMet, being an inanimate money-making corporation (that by definition has no conscience), cannot be trusted to tell the public about all the risks to the environment (including wildlife, fish, water, soil and air) that their exploitation of the earth could generate.

Therefore PolyMet can be expected to hide the fact that their operations could easily cause a massive environmental catastrophe similar to what happened at Mount Polley, British Columbia in 2014 (carefully study the article further below for the frightening details). Mount Polley was a state of the art copper mining operation.

Every citizen stakeholder that is potentially adversely affected by PolyMet’s operatioin deserves to be fully informed by (theoretically) unbiased regulators such as the MN DNR about the potentially catastrophic risk to the water users who happen to live downstream from the massive tailings lagoon, whose (eventual) 250 foot high earthen dam is at a high risk of failing in some way or other sometime in the future, especially in the event of a large deluge of rain, an earthquake or a design flaw that could cause the earthen dam to dissolve, leak, over-top or structurally fail in some other way, including being damaged by sabotage. The risks will exist for eternity, since the toxic metals (see list below) in the lagoon will never degrade into non-toxic forms.

In addition, the vulnerable pipeline that will carry the toxic sludge from the processing plant to the slurry pond is at high risk of sabotage, with serious environmental contamination that could possibly be even worse than the bursting of a dirty frack oil pipeline such as could happen from the foreign pipeline company Enbridge as it transports dirty oil from the tar sands in Canada or from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. I don’t believe that PolyMet has dealt with the possibility of sabotage.

Up to this point, both PolyMet and Twin Metals (and all of the governmental agencies that have been involved in the approval process) have been seriously neglectful in educating the public about all the potential lethal dangers of either the pipeline or the massive amount of toxic liquids that will forever cause the deaths of any water bird that lands on the lake-like lagoon (a la Butte, Montana’s ever-lastingly poisonous mining tailings “pond” and the nearby defunct Berkeley open pit mine [now a toxic “lake”] that has had its water pumps shut down and is now nearly filled to the brim with poisonous water that has high levels of dissolved toxic metals and a pH approximating that of stomach acid!).

It seems to me that the MN DNR would be exceedingly naïve if it trusts PolyMet’s promises to treat the water from the tailings pond by some pie-in-the-sky reverse osmosis or other de-watering plan that has not yet been tried on a commercial level. Those promises are theoretical and should not be trusted.

To more fully understand the importance of the Butte, Montana disaster, I attach below an aerial view photo of Butte’s serious SuperFund site that will be impossible for the EPA to remediate. Every attempt to de-acidify or alkalinize the tailings lagoon has failed miserably. And now, the future of the city of Butte, which was once happily promised jobs, jobs, jobs by the copper bosses, is extremely bleak. Butte, whose rivers and streams experience regular fish kills due to the copper mine-caused water contamination, is becoming de-populated. Could the same thing happen to downstream communities in northern Minnesota?

(See my article about the Butte environmental catastrophe that was published at http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1612/S00062/poisoned-snow-geese-in-butte-toxic-nature-of-copper-mining.htm.)

The DNR, the EPA, and the Forest Service are surely ethically – and also legally, I hope – obligated to adequately educate and fully inform every citizen that relies on the drinking water that is in the nearby aquifers about all of the dangers of extracting (and grinding up into a fine powder) low-grade copper sulfide or nickel sulfide ore (99+% of which is hazardous waste material), whether the risks are catastrophic or minor.

One cannot expect the full disclosure of all risks by any corporation, whether it is a major trans-national mining corporation like Glencore or Antofagasta or a rookie Penny Stock company like PolyMet or Twin Metals. Their share-holders and corporate executives would not stand for totally full disclosure, because such information could adversely affect their investments or the company’s prestige.

Regulatory agencies like the DNR are ethically obligated to inform those of us whose precious and increasingly threatened water is at high risk of being contaminated, especially if the culprits are foreign corporations that have investors who don’t live here. The St Louis River – and thus Lake Superior – is definitely at risk of contamination if the dam fails or the pipeline breaks or is sabotaged. Any such failure – whether gradual or sudden – will impact millions of people, animals and plants downstream.

In the worst case scenario (the Mount Polley scenario), the St Louis River watershed (and therefore Lake Superior) will be poisoned to such a degree that it will never be remediable or usable for fishing, hunting, farming, wild rice harvesting, canoeing, swimming and drinking by those who will never benefit from a copper mine. Even a trillion dollar escrow account posted by PolyMet would be woefully inadequate to meet the costs of an environmental catastrophe like Mount Polley.

The chances of the failure of an earthen tailings dam with walls that are 250 feet high and resulting in an environmental disaster in northern Minnesota will significantly increase every time the dam needs to be raised. The raising of an earthen dam by large bulldozers adding potentially dissolvable additional earth (of what consistency?) is of itself a risky effort, since each level will necessarily have to be narrower and narrower and therefore increasingly more likely to leak, liquify and/or burst.

Why we Should Fear the Creatures from the Black PolyMet Lagoon

The public needs to understand that the liquid slurry that is piped into the lagoon by a pipeline system of uncertain length or safety will surely contain toxic levels of some of the following common sulfide-mining toxic by-products (that are only safe if the remain buried in the ground as sulfide ore: Lead, Arsenic, Nickel, Zinc, Cadmium, Vanadium, Antimony, Manganese and Mercury. This list of hazardous waste minerals were the ones that were present in large quantities in the contaminated sludge that destroyed Mount Polley’s Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake and contaminated the Fraser River.

Duluth residents, representing the largest concentrated population that could be adversely affected by a copper/nickel mine disaster upstream, need to be fully informed that, in the event of a leak or full-fledged collapse of the dam, the fishable, swimmable St Louis River and eventually Duluth’s drinking water from Lake Superior will be contaminated, perhaps mortally and irretrievably.

Earthen dams are notorious for dissolving and collapsing, especially in the presence of certain weather circumstances that are out of the control of any mine operator. One only has to consider the frequent flash floods that result from a sudden deluge of rain similar to the one Duluth experienced a few years ago – and which are increasingly common all over our warming, climate-unstable planet.

To back up this testimony, I offer the following videos – plus an eye-opening article about the Mount Polley environmental disaster of 2014, which should make the DNR decision-makers reject PolyMet’s permits. Mount Polley is considered the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of Canada. And it was man-made (actually corporate-made).

Thank you for your attention. Gary G. Kohls, MD, Duluth, MN


PS: I ask the MN DNR committee that is evaluating the PolyMet’s permit applications to please watch the following videos:












Then study the following article:






















The photo above was taken soon after the Mt Polley tailings pond failure. It pictures what was once the tiny, 6 foot wide Hazeltine Creek near its mouth at Quesnel Lake . Photo courtesy of Clayoquot Action, Tofino, BC (www.clayoquotaction.org)


Below is a selection of links to some of the many videos of the Mount Polley tailings pond dam failure:


 Final Thought