Dunka Mine Water Pollution

WaterLegacy advisors and citizen scientists have highlighted weaknesses in existing Dunka Mine permits and enforcement, allowing toxic pollutants from leaking waste rock stockpiles to harm the aquatic ecosystem and impair wild rice just a short distance from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. WaterLegacy began to question the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) regarding water pollution at the Dunka Mine in 2009, noting that the Mine had variances from water quality standards and still was in violation of permits designed to prevent aquatic toxicity.

In January 2010, three environmental groups gave notice of their intent to file a lawsuit against Cliffs Erie LLC for water pollution violations, including violations of standards at the Dunka Mine and at the LTV Tailings Basin. On March 24, 2010, the MPCA entered into a Consent Decree with Cliffs Erie related to these water quality violations. The MPCA v. Cliffs Erie Complaint and Consent Decree are available here.

WaterLegacy’s work

On March 10, 2011, WaterLegacy sent a letter to the MPCA and the U.S. EPA expressing concerns about Dunka Mine pollution and the need to rewrite and strengthen the underlying water quality permits in the enforcement process:

WaterLegacy also worked with other groups to call attention to the Dunka Mine leaking ore pit on the edge of Birch Lake as a test case for much larger mining projects proposed in northern Minnesota. Josephine Marcotty, Star Tribune, wrote on March 10, 2011

Regulation of leaky ore pit near Ely criticized: Environmentalists point to Dunka Pit, a 1,200-acre site on the edge of Birch Lake, as a test case for much larger mining projects proposed in northern Minnesota. 

A Twin Cities environmental group [WaterLegacy] demanded on Thursday that state regulators impose a new clean-up plan on the owner of an abandoned iron ore pit south of Ely that has been leaking toxins into nearby waters for decades.

Environmentalists say the pit is a sort of test case for the way regulators and mining companies will handle environmental risks at much larger mining operations proposed for the Iron Range in coming years.   

Ongoing work

WaterLegacy continues to engage with both the MPCA and the U.S. EPA to require stronger permits and pollution reduction to protect wild rice and reduce pollution that is toxic to the aquatic ecosystem. Meanwhile, the water-treatment plant on site at the Dunka Mine is not being required to operate, rock stockpiles have not been redesigned and seeps are discharge exceed water-quality pollution limits.