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Five months later, tribe mum on contents of Lake Superior barrels

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It's been five months since a contractor working for the Red Cliff Band of Chippewa pulled seventy barrels off the bottom of Lake Superior. But the band is still declining to say what was found in the barrels, which came from a Twin Cities ammunition plant and were dumped in the lake more than 50 years ago.

The tribe, which blacked out news coverage of the barrels' retrieval last summer, did tell the Duluth News Tribune the contents pose no immediate threat to the public. But officials with the state pollution control agency and with the Army tell the newspaper they, too, have been kept in the dark about what's in the barrels.

The Red Cliff band is managing the retrieval and testing of the barrels, using more than $3 million from a Defense Department fund earmarked for cleaning up pollution on tribal lands. The 70 barrels they're testing are among more than 1,400 55-gallon barrels secretly dumped in the lake during the Cold War. They were apparently trucked up to Duluth from the plant and loaded onto barges.

The Red Cliff band is among those who felt an investigation of the barrels should be handled by a non-government entity. Here's the tribe's web page on the project, last updated in August.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency pulled up a couple of the barrels in the 1990's. They contained grenade parts, lots of concrete, and a Honeywell coffee mug. The agency also has a web page on the barrels. MPCA sonar and video also found junked vehicles, ammunition crates, and other trash in the same area of the lake bottom.

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About 70 random barrels will be recovered, sampled and properly disposed as part of a health investigation this summer. More than 1,400 barrels were dumped into the Great Lake during the Cold War.