Iron Mining

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Iron mining refers to the excavation of iron ore, most of which is used as a key component in the production of steel. Most of the iron ore in Wisconsin can either be classified as taconite (25-35% iron) or high-grade ore (50-70% iron). [1] While Wisconsin is known as an agricultural state, it started as a mining state in the mid-19th century. This article highlights several of the pioneering mines of the state as well as their closures. The act of mining has been synonymous with several environmental issues, including pollution and contamination of the air and water.

Iron Mining in Wisconsin

Iron was the third mineral to be mined in Wisconsin after lead and zinc. [2] The pioneering discovery of iron ore Wisconsin was made by William Foster, Chester May, and E.P. May. This iron mine first began its operations as Wisconsin's first in 1849 in Dodge County. [3] The region is known as the Iron Ridge Mines, and it is located between the towns of Iron Ridge and Mayville, near a settlement originally known as "Neda". [4] Mining in Wisconsin -- similarly to the rest of the country -- was significantly boosted by the invention of railroads. Once the railroad system reached Lake Superior, the Gogebic Range was born.

Map of iron mines in Wisconsin.

Major Mines and their Output

  • Iron Ridge mine: Operated from 1849-1892 and 1896-1914, the Iron Ridge mine produced about 436,000 tons of ore.
  • Mayville mine: Operated from 1892-1928, the Mayville mine produced about 2,144,000 tons of ore (used open pit methods to collect mostly dyestone or Clinton-type ore).
  • Gogebic Range: Operated from 1884-1956, the Gogebic Range produced about 274,000,000 tons of ore, 69,000,000 of which were in Wisconsin (the rest was in Michigan).
  • Cary mine (located in Gogebic Range): The Cary mine produced hematite ore at a depth of approximately 3,350 feet underground, and operated until 1965.
  • Montreal mine (located in Gogebic Range): The Montreal mine produced about 44,700,000 tons of iron ore.
  • Menominee Range: Operated from 1877-1955, the Menominee Range produced over 230,000,000 tons, 7,000,000 of which were in Wisconsin in Florence County (the rest was in Michigan).
  • Baraboo Range: Beginning its operations in 1904 near the center of Baraboo Hills in Sauk County, the Baraboo Range was home to the following two mines (the Illinois and Calhoun mines).
  • Illinois mine: Operated from 1904-1916, the Illinois mine produced about 315,000 tons of ore.
  • Calhoun mine: Operated from 1919-1925, the Calhoun mine produced about 238,000 tons of high-quality ore, usually at depths of less than 500 feet.
  • Black River Falls District: Located near Black River Falls in Jackson County, this region specialized in low-grade magnetic ore known as magnetite. The area was home to the Jackson Iron Company, which was active from 1969-1983 and produced 750,000 long tons of iron product to make into pellets. Iron was discovered in the region much earlier than it was mined, as it was found in 1839 by Jacob Spaulding, who was the founder of the town.

Note: All information gathered in this section can be found in the source referenced here.[5]

Environmental Impact of Iron Mining

The most physically destructive aspect of iron mining stems from the mines themselves, such as open pits and waste disposal areas. [6] Open pit mining disturbs the earth more than underground mining, which usually does not create more than .1 km of waste rock areas. [7] Open pit mining, on the other hand, produce far more waste. The combination of tailings impoundments, leach piles, and slag piles can potentially cover thousands of acres, rending the land useless as long as the mine remains active. [8]

Much of the waste rock produced contains the compound known as pyrite (a.k.a. iron sulfide). [9] Pyrite is significant because it oxidizes -- or rusts -- when exposed to air and water. Oxidized pyrite can inhibit plant growth and acidify the water that rusts it. If uncontrolled, the water may drain into streams or groundwater, thus contaminating otherwise potable water. Previously, the main issue of mine emissions was that of sulfur dioxide into the air. Sulfur dioxide emissions have been largely reduced since their discovery, thus lessening the concern for environmental phenomena such as acid rain. [10]

Wisconsin Iron Mines Today

The last iron mine in Wisconsin to shut down (run by Jackson County Iron Company) is representative of a positive way to utilize the land once mining concludes. Today, it is home to Lake Wazee, dubbed "The Midwest's finest scuba diving experience." [11] Upon its closing, the area previously used for mining steadily filled with clear spring water, eventually becoming over 400 feet deep with 146 acres of surface water. [12] Similar methods of re-purposing mines significantly reduces the amount of waste and unusable terrain created throughout the process.

A comparison of Wisconsin's last mine with what it looks like today

References

  1. "Mining: Iron." Wisconsin Geological Natural History Survey. Accessed November 30, 2017. https://wgnhs.uwex.edu/wisconsin-geology/iron-mining/.
  2. Roe, Lawrence A. A History of Wisconsin Mining. Madison, WI: ROECO, 1991.
  3. The Wisconsin Cartographers' Guild, Wisconsin's Past and Present: A Historical Atlas (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), p. 38, accessed November 28, 2017.
  4. Iron Ridge Mines, Iron Ridge District (Neda Iron District), Dodge Co., Wisconsin, USA. Accessed November 28, 2017. https://www.mindat.org/loc-22542.html.
  5. Roe, Lawrence A. A History of Wisconsin Mining. Madison, WI: ROECO, 1991.
  6. "How can metal mining impact the environment?" American Geosciences Institute. October 30, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2017. https://www.americangeosciences.org/critical-issues/faq/how-can-metal-mining-impact-environment.
  7. "How can metal mining impact the environment?" American Geosciences Institute. October 30, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2017. https://www.americangeosciences.org/critical-issues/faq/how-can-metal-mining-impact-environment.
  8. "How can metal mining impact the environment?" American Geosciences Institute. October 30, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2017. https://www.americangeosciences.org/critical-issues/faq/how-can-metal-mining-impact-environment.
  9. "How can metal mining impact the environment?" American Geosciences Institute. October 30, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2017. https://www.americangeosciences.org/critical-issues/faq/how-can-metal-mining-impact-environment.
  10. "How can metal mining impact the environment?" American Geosciences Institute. October 30, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2017. https://www.americangeosciences.org/critical-issues/faq/how-can-metal-mining-impact-environment.
  11. Editorial, A. Wisconsin State Journal. "Learn from example of Wisconsin's last iron mine: Lake Wazee." Madison.com. January 15, 2012. Accessed December 11, 2017. http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/opinion/editorial/learn-from-example-of-wisconsin-s-last-iron-mine-lake/article_9bb22a26-3eea-11e1-bc07-0019bb2963f4.html.
  12. Editorial, A. Wisconsin State Journal. "Learn from example of Wisconsin's last iron mine: Lake Wazee." Madison.com. January 15, 2012. Accessed December 11, 2017. http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/opinion/editorial/learn-from-example-of-wisconsin-s-last-iron-mine-lake/article_9bb22a26-3eea-11e1-bc07-0019bb2963f4.html.

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