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Mine Closures Deal A Blow To Illinois

作者:ihpa.net 发布时间:2017-10-13

On the last day of January, Ozark-Mahoning will halt its mining operations in deep southern Illinois, where fluorspar, or 'spar, as locals call flourite, has been mined since the 1840s.

More than 100 people will lose their jobs here, a severe blow to a region where unemployment generally is the highest in the state. Top wage for union employees was $11.85 an hour.

"The Chinese have pretty well taken over the market and had prices extremely low," said Dan Pilcher, vice president of Ozark-Mahoning, Hardin County's biggest employer.

Fluorspar is deeply embedded in the earth and in the culture of the beautiful but sparsely populated Shawnee Hills region.

There are only about 5,000 residents in all of Hardin County, where as many as 35 fluorspar mining companies once operated. For generations, workers have sloshed in hip boots through damp mines to get at the veins of ore, some of which run underneath the Ohio River and into Kentucky.

A few mines have been closed during the years because the river couldn't be kept out.

This region once was the world's No. 1 producer of fluorite, which has widespread industrial and chemical use, ranging from the manufacture of steel, metal alloys, glass, enamel glazes, bath fixtures and the production of hydrofluoric acid used in the making of aluminum, gasoline, nerve gas, refrigerants and metal plating.

In its crystallized form, the mineral has a value beyond mundane manufacturing processes. For years, miners here have been allowed to take as much hand-picked 'spar crystal as they could carry in their lunch pails. The size of those pails has been known to grow in relation not so much to a miner's appetite but more according to the demand for the striking blue, green, purple, yellow or clear cubic crystals.

A favorite stone of prehistoric carvers and Native American medicine men, fluorspar is still valued by rock hounds as well as New Age "healie-feelies" as area residents call people who attribute spiritual powers to the rock.

Although Ozark-Mahoning will stop mining and milling the mineral, the company's fluorspar drying and bagging operation will remain in business. About 25 senior union workers will be retained to process fluorspar purchased from mining operations in China and shipped by barge to the Rosiclare plant.

Humm said company officials told his union that the cost of mining fluorspar in Illinois is more than $200 a ton while the cost of purchasing it and shipping it from China is about $140 a ton.

"And the Chinese were selling it awhile back for $80 a ton. It's hard to compete with that," said Humm, 41, whose seniority will allow him to keep working.

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