Environmentalists think the Reserve case is the most important in the history of the U.S.?
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It will take several years for Reserve to completely end the pollution by its iron-ore processing plant, on the shore of Lake Superior.
And there is growing fear in Minnesota serious damage could be done in that time.
Each day, Reserve dumps 67-thousand tons of waste into the lake, chunks of rock containing the asbestos-like fibers linked to cancer.
And each day, smoke from Reserve's stakes carry the fibers into the air above Silver Bay.
The fibers are also found in the water supply of Duluth, a city of 100-thousand, sixty miles from Reserve's plant. People in Duluth are told not to drink the water.
The growing concern abut Reserve's pollution is partly the result of new studies by scientists at New York Mount Sinai Hospital. They say even very low levels of exposure to asbestos cause cancer...and that continued Reserve pollution will lead to an increase in cancer deaths.
Doctor Henry Anderston studied workers in asbestos plants who had been exposed to the fibers for short periods of time:
SOF, DR. HENRY ANDERSON:
"The worker's only worked, say three months, some as little as one week and we're now examining them some thirty-years afterwards. We're finding ex-ray changes which are characteristic of asbestos exposure in, oh, about 35-per cent of the 500 people we've examined." ???
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Scientists are most worried about Reserve's air pollution.
This is a fibre found in a flake of snow from Silver Bay.
The scientists say the fibers in the air at Silver Bay may be ten to one hundred times greater than in the air at a New Jersey asbestos plant where cancer deaths tripled.
Minnesota's pollution control agency has the power to close ???eserve, Until it can operate without polluting. And there is growing sentiment among board members to do just that.
The new Mount Sinai Studies may also change tentative plans for reserve to dump its wastes on land...since that might put more fibers into the air.
But Reserve says if it is closed, it might not be able to afford the cost of ending its pollution. The company still maintains there is no proof its pollution causes cancer:
SOF, MATTHEW BENOVETZ, EK. VP, RESERVE
"I've been working here for 25 years, I raise my family in connection with this, uh, taconite industry ???...many friends, relatives and I certainly do not feel in any way that we are endangering anyone.
SOF ??? PETER L. GOVE, DIRECTOR, MINN. P.C.A.
"But we at this agency are quite concerned about public health and the environment and I think if we're going to be cautious, we should be cautious on the side of public health and the peoples environment. And if that's what is required, we will not hesitate to close that plant down for a period of time."
SOF, STANDUPPER BRIDGE:
"While Minnesota officials worry about air pollution, the on-land disposal site and whether to close Reserve, the water quality in Duluth isn't getting any better... in fact, in some ways, it may be getting worse."
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Filters to remove the fibers from Duluth's water were installed more than a year ago at fire stations, school and restaurants. But many of the filters failed.
A federal water quality lab is conducting studies now on the filters, but scientists concluded that for a while, at least, school children and others were drinking unfiltered water.
Though Duluth is building a plant to filter all of the city's water...it will be more than a year before it is completed.
Meanwhile, there is a burgeoning protest movement among some Duluth citizens, like the Harley Johnsons, who live here. They refused to pay their water bill and the city threatened to cut off their water.
SOF, KATHEE JOHNSON:
I was called into the mayors office a few weeks ago and he told me that in hampering the water filtration plant by this action and also that people are really getting riled up.
"I pay my sewage, because that's what I finally decided the water is."
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Dozens of other families have joined the Johnsons' protest.
The only thing apparently stopping Minnesota officials and the court from closing Reserve is absolute proof that the company's air and water pollution causes cancer. ??? Like deaths...traced directly to Reserve.
Scientists ??? proof It will not be ??? another decade...and by then, it could be too late to help even the next generation. Bob Jamieson, NBC News, Silver Bay, Minnesota.
Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
Background: Environmentalists think the Reserve case is the most important in the history of the U.S. The plant, on the shore of Lake Superior at Silver Bay has been under attack for ten years. When it was found that asbestos-like fibers, linked directly to cancer, were part of the waste Reserve dumps in the lake and pumps into the air, a federal judge ruled the plant was a health hazard and ordered it closed. It stayed closed for two days, but an appeals court re-opened it. That was in the spring of '74. Since then, Reserve has been ordered to end its air and water pollution as soon as possible. It has said it will end the air pollution by 1977 and the water pollution several years after an on-land disposal site is agreed upon. Hearings for such a site are almost concluded. But now, their is evidence the plant is such a health hazard the minnesota pollution control agency may act under its emergency powers provision to close it early in 1976.
Reserve mines Taconite, a low grader iron ore and then processes that into high-grade ore at its Silver Bay plant. Reserve is owned, entirely, by Armco and Republic Steel.