From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the town in the United States, see Taconite, Minnesota.
Sedimentary iron formation rock
Primary Magnetite, hematite and chert
Secondary Siderite, greenalite, minnesotaite and stilpnomelane

Taconite is a variety of iron formation, an iron-bearing (> 15% iron) sedimentary rock, in which the iron minerals are interlayered with quartz, chert, or carbonate. Newton Horace Winchell, the Minnesota State Geologist, coined the term during his pioneering investigations of the Precambrian Biwabik Iron Formation of northeastern Minnesota. He noted the rock had a superficial resemblance to iron-bearing rocks from the Taconic Mountains of New York.

The iron content of taconite, commonly present as finely dispersed magnetite, is generally 25 to 30%.


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States was mining such an abundance of iron ore of high quality that taconite was considered an uneconomic waste product. By the end of World War II, however, much of the high-grade iron ore in the United States had been exhausted. Taconite became valued as a new source of the metal.


To process taconite, the ore is ground into a fine powder, the magnetite is separated from the gangue by strong magnets, and the powdered iron concentrate is combined with a binder such as bentonite clay and limestone as a flux. As a last step, it is rolled into pellets about one centimeter in diameter that contain approximately 65% iron. The pellets are fired at a very high temperatures to harden them and make them durable. This is to ensure that the blast furnace charge remains porous enough to allow heated gas to pass through and react with the pelletized ore. Firing the pellet oxidizes the magnetite (Fe3O4) to hematite (Fe2O3), an exothermic reaction that reduces the cost of pelletizing the concentrate. E. W. Davis of the University of Minnesota Mines Experiment Station is credited with developing the pelletizing process. Since the commercial development of this process in the Lake Superior region in the 1950s, the term taconite has been used globally to refer to iron ores amenable to upgrading by similar processes.

Major producers of iron ore pellets from taconite in North America include Iron Ore Company of Canada, Cliffs Natural Resources, Inc., U.S. Steel, and ArcelorMittal. These processed taconite-ore pellets are also referred to as "taconite". Because this is the form that is typically transported by rail and ship, and cargo of these is often discussed, this usage of the term is very common.[1]

Processed taconite pellets as used in the steelmaking industry, with a US quarter shown for scale.

The Mesabi Iron Range region of the American state of Minnesota is a major production area. The taconite iron ore pellets are hauled by railroad to the ports of Silver Bay, Two Harbors and the Twin Ports of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin, all on Lake Superior. The docks at Escanaba, Michigan, on Lake Michigan, also ship taconite from the Marquette iron range in Michigan, and occasionally ore from Minnesota is hauled by rail there. Marquette, Michigan also has a taconite dock which also loads bulk freighters with ore from the Marquette iron range. The ore is generally shipped by lake freighters to locations on the lower Great Lakes. Many steelmaking centers are located near Lake Erie. Due to increased international demand, taconite is shipped to Mexico and China.[2]

The cargo of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, consisted of approximately 26,116 long tons of taconite pellets.

Taconite and human health[edit]

Beginning in 1955, the crushed waste rock (tailings) from processing taconite of the Reserve Mining Company in Minnesota were discharged in a slurry into Lake Superior. The tailings contained 40% of the mineral series cummingtonite-grunerite, which, being in the amphibole group, form particles similar to those of asbestos minerals. The wastes were shown to impact Lake Superior, which was the source of drinking water for many cities. Tests of Duluth Minnesota's water supply showed 100 billion fibers per liter of water. There was not epidemiological proof that these particles caused cancer or if they were safe. On April 20, 1974, the US District Court judge ruled that the drinking water and Lake Superior must be protected from the asbestos-like particles. The Reserve Mine was forced to begin disposing of tailing wastes on the land, and to implement air pollution control equipment, instead of discharging them directly to Lake Superior. This became one of the costliest pollution prevention cases in US history.[3] Studies have found no adverse health effects from drinking Lake Superior water.[4][5]

A 2003 study of taconite miners concluded that the most likely cause of 14 of the 17 cases of mesothelioma among miners on the iron range was contact with asbestos. Since that study was concluded, 35 additional cases of iron range miners with the disease have been diagnosed. Mesothelioma occurs at twice the expected rate among the population of the northeastern region of Minnesota, including the Iron Range. [6]

Spurred by the 2003 study, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) studied the relationship of fibrous minerals in taconite and taconite dust, and lung conditions similar to asbestosis, pleural mesothelioma and other pleural conditions which occur following asbestos exposure. Because these conditions can be triggered by industrial asbestos, which was also used in taconite mining and processing, the study attempted to determine what, if any, influence naturally occurring fibrous minerals in taconite may have played.[6] The lengthy epidemiological study of Minnesota iron miners concluded in December 2014 that those working 30 years in the iron mines had a lifetime chance of having a mesothelioma of 3.33 cases per thousand people, more than double the background rate of 1.44 cases per thousand people. [7]


  1. ^ "Taconite", Department of Natural Resources
  2. ^ [1], Future Work
  3. ^ Thomas R. Huffman, "Enemies of the People, Asbestos and the Reserve Mining Trial" http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/59/v59i07p292-306.pdf
  4. ^ E. E. Sigurson, “Observations of cancer incidence surveillance in Duluth, Minnesota,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Nov. 1983, v.53 p61-67.
  5. ^ Hilding and others, “Biological effects of ingested amosite asbestor, taconite tailings, diatomaceous earth and Lake Superior water in rats,” Archives of Environmental Health, Nov.-Dec. 1981, v.36 n.6 p.298-303.
  6. ^ a b Hemphill, Stephanie (2007-06-08). "Researchers look for links between taconite and mesothelioma". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2007-07-18. 
  7. ^ Final findings, University of Minnesota Foundation, 14 Jan. 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Manuel, Jeffrey T., “Mr. Taconite: Edward W. Davis and the Promotion of Low-Grade Iron Ore, 1913–1955,” Technology and Culture, 54 (April 2013), 317–45.
  • Manuel, Jeffrey T., Taconite Dreams: The Struggle to Sustain Mining on Minnesota's Iron Range, 1915-2000. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

External links[edit]