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Dangers to the air we breathe

Listen to Pam Heard, Respiratory Therapist, talk about the significant dangers the Idaho-Maryland Mine poses to the air we breathe during a CEA Foundation virtual community meeting in November 2021. The transcript is below.

Well at first I'd like to say hello to everyone tonight and thank you for joining us. Please take a moment to go grab your preferred adult beverage because this presentation is pretty dry, but necessary.

My name is Pam Heard. I'm a respiratory therapist. We specialize in lung and heart health and I hope that you never need one. But the consulting report on air quality is 1,305 pages total. That's a pretty big deal to the Mine and it's a huge deal for our community. We must breathe to live. And the quality, or purity of the air that we breathe impacts our health.

The lungs are the only organs in constant contact with the external environment and you just can't go to the corner store to buy a bottle of air. Rise Gold wants to start a hard rock mining operation that will operate 24 hours per day 365 days per year for 80 years. This operation requires the use of heavy industrial equipment that will blast rock, extract the rock to build underground tunnels, crush it to a 6 inch diameter, create engineered filled by mixing the blast rock with sand tailings, and then transport that fill to various sites. One given estimate is 365,000 tons per year just for the Centennial Site.

So how will this impact our community and environment? Well, first we need to consider the current health of our residents and our existing air quality. What are our baselines? In Nevada County, the mortality rate from chronic lung disease is double the rate in California statewide - 69 versus 35 deaths per 100,000 people respectively. The American Lung Association has given Nevada County a failing grade for air quality in both ozone and particulate matter categories.

So why is our air so bad? Well, it's the three W's: Weather, wildfire, and Wind. Auto emissions flow in westerly from Sacramento, then local patterns change based on topography. The weather model data from our own Nevada County Airpark shows that Grass Valley winds are from the south for 7.4 months (corrected) and then from the east for the remaining 4.6 months of the year. The Brunswick site is just a half mile southeast of the city limits all pollutants will funnel directly into the Brunswick basin in the city of Grass Valley.

So what are these pollutants and their health effects?

Let's start with diesel fuel, the primary fuel to power those large engines needed for mining operations. These engines emit a complex mix of air pollutants including both gaseous and solid material. The gas portion contains carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur oxides, and hydrocarbons. including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Reactive organic gases and nitrogen oxide compounds then react with air and UV light from the sun to form ozone. All of these gases cause irritation and inflammation to the respiratory tract and can cause shortness of breath trigger allergy or asthma symptoms, and result in decreased lung function.

In addition to ozone concerns, nitrogen and sulfur oxides are captured by moisture to form acid rain, which has devastating effects on terrestrial and aquatic environments. The solid material in diesel fuel belongs to a class of compounds called toxic air contaminants. A substance is considered toxic if it has the potential to cause adverse health effects in humans… like increasing your risk for cancer or developing acute and or chronic health problems.

The term “dust” or “fugitive dust” describes the waste particles from mineral mining processes. Dust is defined as fine particles of matter in a size range from 1 to 100 microns which settle slowly under the influence of gravity. The unaided human eye can only see down to a particle size of about 50 microns. Imagine one grain of powdered sugar. The solid material in the exhaust is called diesel particulate matter or DPM. Diesel exhaust contains more than 40 cancer-causing substance, most of which are readily absorbed onto these soot particles. More than 90% of DPM is less than 1 micron in diameter. The smaller the particle, the deeper it penetrates into your lungs to where the air sacs are located and gas exchange occurs in contact with the blood stream. The California Air Resources Board estimates that about 70% of the cancer risk that the average Californian faces from breathing toxic air contaminants stems from these diesel exhaust particles.

Asbestos is another toxic air contaminant. Naturally occurring asbestos is found throughout California most commonly where ultramafic or serpentinite rock is present. Asbestos fibers can become airborne and be inhaled causing chronic local inflammation disrupting orderly cell division, possibly leading to the development of asbestosis and mesothelioma. The particle size for exposure is measured at just 5 microns, invisible to the naked eye. Or as my 4 year old grandson would say… “teeny-tiny”. It's so “teeny-tiny” that you need a microscope to see it.

The report given to investors in the IMM technical report focuses on the location of the gold deposits and has over 50 references to serpentine or serpentinite. It states that quote the whole package of rocks exhibits a region foliation and is interpreted as a s serpentinite matrix tectonic melange. Here's another example the Rose Garden deposit as hosted solely in serpentinite. Wow, French, roses, and gold… they make it sound so poetic. Translation: what they're saying is that a lot of the gold they know about is surrounded by serpentine type rocks. The serpentine rock areas are the same areas most likely to contain asbestos Rise Gold declares in this same report that they will decide what areas are feasible to mine: trust me, their decisions will be based on gold assays not on asbestos content.

Once the gold ore is mined, it will then be pulverized and create yet another toxic air contaminant: crystalline silica. The gold deposits are primarily found in quartz veins, silicon dioxide. This quartz will be ground down below a hundred micron size and the gold will be separated out by gravity flotation. Rise has stated that 12% of the sand tailings from this process screens down to 44 microns, again, invisible to the naked eye. Respirable crystalline silica has a diameter of 4 microns. It is unknown what portion of those twelve percent tailings will be less than forty-four microns in size. Crystalline silica is hazardous when inhaled. Chronic exposure is associated with bronchitis, emphysema, small airways disease, and silicosis... the fibrotic scarring of lung tissue.

Who will be affected by these pollutants? We will all be affected. But children, the elderly, and people with existing health conditions will suffer most. Children spend twice as much time outdoors as adults and they inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight. Children, teens, and adults who exercise or work outdoors are at the greatest risk for exposure. And let's not forget our elderly folks. The quadrant just north of the Brunswick and Centennial sites are home to our hospital, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, the Chapa De Indian Health Center, doctors offices, senior apartment complexes… along with our homeless shelter and the proposed homeless housing project. Our supportive services are located here too: Pride Industries, Freed, the regional center, dialysis center, public Health Department offices, and the ambulance service.

So are you ready to follow me down the rabbit hole?

I question whether Rise Gold is revealing the whole truth. In reality, they will be working through serpentinite to extract the gold ore. The serpentinite will contaminate all of their equipment and all the other types of rock. The skips, crushers, conveyor belts, front end loaders and trucks will be dusted with asbestos. Can rinsing the truck tires before they exit the site, or covering the truck bed with a tarp… control community exposure? The asbestos and crystalline silica particles are invisible. When airborne and released, they cannot be measured or tracked in the environment. And there is no safe amount of exposure to asbestos.

The list of pollutants is long: noxious gases that cause irritation and inflammation, which makes you more susceptible to infection and illness from pathogens like influenza and covid-19. Inhaled particles, such as diesel particulate matter, asbestos and crystalline silica will deposit deep into the lung tissue leading to fibrosis, decreased lung function, and premature death.

Rise Gold has declared that each of these pollutants will have a quote, “less than significant effect” on our community. They maintain that they will be able to mitigate or diminish the effects with strategies such as using tier 4 diesel engines, placing filters on their ventilation fans, and wetting down the dust. How can spewing pollutants from thousands of gallons of diesel fuel daily; trucking rock and sand tailings laden with asbestos and silica around town 16 hours per day; building two sites with these materials layer by layer; plus the day and night operations of the Mine for 80 years have a quote “less than significant effect” on our community?

Today, we've only touched on the impact to air quality. There are so many other considerations like water, property values noise, and quality of life - just to name a few.

In my opinion, the Rise Gold operation will constitute a public health crisis, as well as an environmental health crisis. Thank you for your time and attention tonight, and please join with CEA to stop the Idaho-Maryland Mine.


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