Wisconsin residents gathered at the State Capitol Saturday to rally for a cyanide ban in Wisconsin mines. Members of local Native American tribes, students from UW-Stevens Point and representatives from unions across the state made their voices heard.
“The legislation calls for a ban on all uses of the extremely toxic chemical in all Wisconsin mines,” said David Blouin of the Mining Impact Coalition. “Cyanide is not needed for metallic mining.”
Wisconsin’s mining industry is one of the largest in the United States. Some statistics have shown that cyanide is not needed for mining metals in zinc-copper mines.
The Crandon Mine in Forrest County, Wis., has become a focal point for those fighting to ban cyanide. The company in charge of the mine has proposed using cyanide to dig up metallic ores and to landfill the cyanide at the mine site once it has been used.
Fifteen thousand residents supporting the ban in Northeastern Wisconsin counties have already signed anti-cyanide petitions. Cyanide use has already been banned in two Wisconsin counties, Vilas and Oneida.
Residents fear that allowing cyanide in the mines will damage local wildlife in the Wolf and Fox River valleys. Residents also said that transportation of hazardous materials is potentially damaging to the environment.
“They are not only a hazard when they are transported,” Blouin said. “They also are a great hazard in the mining and milling process.”
Polling across the state shows a majority of Wisconsin residents support the ban. 58 percent of those polled said they support the legislation, and in Wisconsin regions where residents will be directly affected, 65 percent supported the bill.
The State Senate Environmental Resources Committee approved the bill sponsored by state Senator Russ Decker, D-Schofield. The Senate has scheduled a full vote at the end of the month. State Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, sponsors the bill in the State Assembly.
Fred Ackley, a tribal judge from Mole Lake, stressed the environmental importance of the legislation.
“We all come from water and it is a gift,” Ackley said. “The first thing that those firefighters in New York wanted was a glass of water.”
Water is not the only resource that may be in jeopardy. Sport fisherman groups said they fear even small leaks will cause many fish to die. Any leak at the mine itself could also harm crops and livestock.
Students from UW-Stevens Point also attended the rally. Blouin said students have long been part of the effort to oppose the Crandon mine and to strengthen mining law.
Mark Westfall of the Fox Valley Area Labor Council said several groups who traditionally disagree have come together to fight the legislation.
“Native Americans and sports fisherman, students and rural residents, and unionists and environmentalists have all come together to fight for a cyanide ban.”
Jerry Gunderson from the Committee of Labor Against Sulfide Pollution promised to fight for the legislation for as long as it takes.
“For as long as the opposition fights us, we will be there one day longer,” Gunderson said.