Stamp sand bill draws concern

HOUGHTON – State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, has authored a bill, which if approved by the Legislature, would remove stamp sands from Michigan environmental law restrictions with some exceptions.

Now, a local environmental organization has come forward expressing concerns about possible negative health effects if it becomes law.

Casperson’s SB 872, if approved, would make stamp sands “not subject to state environmental law restrictions unless the sands contain hazardous substances that exceed the allowable levels for unrestricted residential use.”

Linda Rulison, president of the Friends of the Land of the Keweenaw (FOLK), said members of the group are concerned about the bill, particularly because the Environmental Protection Agency spent $15 million to cover the stamp sands at the Torch Lake Superfund Site.

(Casperson’s bill) doesn’t seem logical,” she said. “Stamp sands have different levels of contamination.”

Stamp sands are the residue of stamp milling of copper ore. Various research since the 1980s have shown stamp sands contain several types of toxins including copper, lead, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls. During the copper-mining era, stamp sands were dumped near the mills or into Torch Lake.

Rulison said members of FOLK and other area residents on April 24 took part in a teleconference of a hearing about SB 872 in Lansing at the Houghton office of the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region. It was attended by about 12 people and eight testified about the bill.

“A couple were for it, and most were against it,” she said.

Members of FOLK also were at hearings in the summers of 2012 and 2013 in Lake Linden conducted by the Michigan Department of Community Health.

“They don’t have enough data to show where there are safe levels and unsafe levels (of toxins),” she said of the MDCH.

The conclusion of the MDCH report, “Evaluation of inhalation of airborne stamp sands in the Torch Lake Superfund site and surrounding area in Houghton and Keweenaw Counties, Michigan” states “Based on the values used in this exercise, some of which are site-specific data-based values whereas others are default assumptions, the estimated air concentrations of selected metals from Point Mills stamp sands in Calumet might cause harm in the short or long term. More discussion regarding exposure and public health implications is in the main text of this document. If new information becomes available that would change the values, re-evaluation may be necessary. This exercise can inform and guide future risk assessments.”

Rulison said with the current knowledge of stamp sands, uncontrolled development of them isn’t a good idea.

“It’s pretty questionable,” she said. “I think more research is needed to be done to identify safe areas. This bill is too much, too soon.”

Jessica Koski, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community mining technology assistant, said tribal members are concerned about SB 872, also.

Koski said tribal members’ concerns include any possible development of Torch Lake and the Gay stamp sands, which are near a fish spawning area.

Representatives of the KBIC Natural Resources Department have expressed concerns to state officials about removing controls regarding development of stamp sands, Koski said.

There is concern with tribal members who fish Portage Lake that the proposed Casperson bill would violate treaty rights because Torch Lake is connected to Portage Lake, Koski said.

The scientific research shows stamp sands are a health risk, Koski said. Casperson’s bill will only benefit those who want to construct housing on stamp sands, particularly around Torch Lake.

“We don’t think the Legislature should amend (the law) for special interest groups,” she said.