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Mine containment protocols tested in acid spill

July 10, 2012
The Mining Journal

The bad news: there was a chemical spill at the Kennecott Eagle Mine in Michigamme Township Saturday. The good news: crews contained the spill and cleaned it up without damage to the surrounding environment.

An estimated 75 to 100 gallons of hydrochloric acid, used in the mine's water treatment process, leaked Saturday from a faulty valve into a containment area. The spill happened in an isolated chemical storage area of the nickel and copper mine.

According to mine officials, this was the first spill to occur at the Eagle Mine or Kennecott's Humboldt Mill.

No injuries were reported, and the mining company clearly took the situation seriously, evacuating about a dozen workers from the mine's underground facilities and another two to four employees from the water treatment plant. The acid spill, discovered at 5 a.m., was neutralized with another chemical and cleaned up by 1 p.m., according to Kennecott. Personnel from the Powell Township Fire Department were standing by as a precaution.

The spill was a relatively small one by industrial standards and it occurred in an area designed to capture leaks, so the incident will not have to be reported to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. But Kennecott officials said they planned to inform the state's environmental watchdog agency nonetheless.

We applaud the mining company's apparent commitment to transparency. It's the best way to make sure the mine isn't unfairly criticized for its environmental impact. Kennecott is reporting the spill incident even though they're not required to; company representatives cooperated with the news media in getting the facts out; and, most importantly, they are working hard to make their operation as safe as possible.

Accidents happen, but, as Kennecott's response shows, risks can be controlled.



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