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Boy with leukemia uses his Wish to fight mining near the Boundary Waters

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A boy from Springfield, Illinois, has one Wish, and he's using it to lobby against controversial copper mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota.

Joseph Goldstein, 13, was approached by Make-A-Wish last fall after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Instead of asking for a chance to meet a famous athlete or take a trip to Disney World like many kids do, the boy who grew up catching pike in northern Minnesota asked for a trip to Washington.

"I think [a Wish] should be about more than just me. It should be about my brothers and my friends and my parents and all of us – a wish for my generation and everyone after," Joseph wrote in a letter to lawmakers, which was published on the Save the Boundary Waters website.

His letter continued: "Everyone I know is interested [in the Boundary Waters], even if they haven’t yet had the chance to experience it, and I want to protect that opportunity for everyone, forever."

Wish granted

Joseph only gets one one-week break during his first year of chemotherapy, and he chose to spend it in the nation's capital meeting with officials about copper mining near the BWCA, his mother, Kemia Sarraf, wrote in an update on Facebook.

"The Boundary Waters are a very important, very special place. And if they are destroyed by sulfide ore mining, we'll never get it back," Joseph told the Duluth News Tribune in a phone interview Tuesday.

On Tuesday, he met with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Thomas Tidwell, Rep. Timothy Walz, D-Minn., Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., and Smokey Bear.

Joseph is expected to meet with more lawmakers in the coming days, Sarraf said, including U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., the Duluth News Tribune notes.

He'll also join Jason Zabokrtsky, of Ely Outfitting Co. and the Save the Boundary Waters campaign, in presenting the organization's petition to keep mining away from the BWCA, according to a tweet by the campaign.

Back to the BWCA

Joseph's family hopes to be back at the BWCA very soon, the Duluth News Tribune says. Joseph's father is home in Illinois building a cedar strip canoe for the family's next trip.

"[Joseph is] a very strong boy, both emotionally and physically, so he was in great shape to fight this going in," Sarraf told the newspaper.

Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), the type of cancer Joseph has, has a high survival rate. More than 95 percent of children with ALL attain remission, and roughly 80 percent of patients aged 1-18 with newly diagnosed ALL who undergo current treatment regimens are expected to be long-term, event-free survivors, the National Cancer Institute says.

Copper mining controversy

Geologists have said the area near Ely, Minnesota, is home to one of the largest copper and nickel deposits on Earth, which has companies going through the process to open mines in the area.

The problem is the metals are in rocks that contain sulphide, which generates sulfuric acid when exposed to air or water. Critics say acidic mine runoff from the proposed copper mine project east of Ely could be disastrous to the area – if runoff reaches the South Kawishiwi River it could wind up in the Boundary Waters.

However, supporters of mining in northeastern Minnesota say companies can operate safely and predictions of environmental harm is unfounded. Proponents also say there would be huge economic benefits to the area, including the creation of thousands of jobs.

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