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MER’s Greg Barron reports on Reserve Mining Trial, where issues of asbestos from dumping tailings into Lake Superior are being argued. Dr. Donald Baumgartner, an engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency, testified for the state using a taconite settling study that shows particles can carry great distances in Lake Superior. Reserve Mining claims taconite is carried to a 600 foot "Great Trench."


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GREG BARON: The proceedings resumed this morning with the continued testimony of Dr. Donald Baumgartner, the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency's National Coastal Pollution Research Program at Corvallis, Oregon. Dr. Baumgartner, a civil engineer is the government's sixth witness. And yesterday, he testified that late in 1972, he had been responsible for conducting an extensive analysis of underwater currents and other hydraulic processes in Northwestern Lake Superior.

Witness Baumgartner explained that during the course of his study, computerized current measuring devices had been placed in the lake directly out from reserves tailing dumping operation. He said readings were taken over the course of four months, and that based on the results, currents had been plotted. At one point today, federal attorney Bradford Whitman asked the witness if his findings concurred with previously conducted current studies.

Baumgartner said, yes, and that as a matter of fact, subsequent reports conducted by reserve mining had confirmed his findings. Attorney Whitman continued by asking if Baumgartner had calculated the rate at which fine taconite tailing particles settled to the lake bottom. "Yes, I have made those computations," he said, and went on to testify that assuming there was no turbulence, microscopic tailing particles are likely to travel about 120 miles before finally settling to the lake bottom.

"If turbulence were present," he said, "these particles could travel as far as 280 miles before reaching the bottom." At that point, Judge Lord, clearly surprised, interrupted and asked if that didn't mean that taconite could actually reach Wisconsin. "Yes, your honor," said the witness, "I believe they could."

Contrary to the government's contention that tailing pollution is widespread, Reserve Mining Company claims that tailings which reach the water are carried quickly by dense water currents to a 600-foot deep part of the lake referred to as the great trench. In an attempt to firmly refute the reserve contention, attorney Whitman wrapped up the early morning testimony by asking Baumgartner, and I quote, "based on your measurements and your observations, do you have an opinion as to whether the taconite tailings from reserve move out of the great trench and into other parts of the lake?"

Baumgartner's reply, "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that such transport is indeed likely and does occur." Baumgartner's testimony is expected to continue throughout the day. And it's understood here that at some point, he'll testify that even if taconite dumping were to stop today, it would take 500 years for natural processes to flush the particles from the lake. At the federal courthouse in Minneapolis, this is Greg Baron.


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