Whistleblower: Pollution fines stack up

  • Updated: September 1, 2012 - 9:18 PM

The state Pollution Control Agency levied penalties of more than $10,000 each for water, air or waste violations.

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Some of violators were fined for water pollution

Photo: Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune

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One polluter sent unhealthy dust into the air on about 30 occasions. Another provided "misleading information" to the state about its wastewater treatment system. Another burned asbestos-containing material.

These are some of the violations cited by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in the first half of 2012.

I looked at the MPCA's enforcement actions for air, water, toxic waste and other violations. The agency issued orders against 72 businesses and individuals and assessed more than $1.4 million in fines and orders for environmental projects.

Following are the seven violators who paid more than $10,000 in penalties. All agreed to take corrective and preventative action.

1 Bushmills Ethanol Inc., Atwater, Minn., fined $800,000 for water-quality violations

Bushmills discharged wastewater containing unpermitted levels of dissolved minerals (salts) and other pollutants from its Atwater production facility into a ditch that flows to the Crow River. The high fine reflects "misleading information" provided to the MPCA, the agency said.

The facility obtained a discharge permit in 2007 that required it to install a wastewater treatment system and have it operating properly by mid-2008.

"The company certified in several later submissions to the MPCA that system installation was on schedule and the discharges were meeting standards, when in fact the system had not been operating properly since startup and continued to be out of compliance through 2009," the agency said.

2 Northshore Mining Co., Silver Bay, fined $240,175 for air-quality violations. The business agreed to spend an additional $79,825 on equipment.

The company's taconite-processing plant in Silver Bay exceeded dust emission limits on about 30 occasions between November 2010 and May 2011. The very fine, hazardous dust accumulated on boats at a nearby marina.

The company took corrective measures and paid for seven new MPCA air monitors to be used statewide to measure small dust particles.

Northshore was also fined $26,087 in 2011 for improperly pumping water from a Babbitt, Minn., mine into surface water.

3 Flame Metals Processing Corp., Rogers, fined $10,000 for water-quality and solid-waste violations. The company agreed to spend at least $90,000 more on equipment.

Flame Metals, which heat-treats metals, sent toxic sludge and potentially toxic filters to a conventional solid waste landfill. It also exceeded limits on the wastewater it sent to a public treatment facility.

The company spent $235,700 on equipment to, in part, "effectively treat cyanide" in wastewater.

4 Magnetation LLC, Duluth, fined $40,000 for air quality violations.

The mining company began violating airborne dust rules within three months of beginning operations at its Keewatin, Minn., facility in February 2009. The facility extracts iron from previously processed mine tailings.

The agency issued a violation notice in July 2010. Dust samples collected in Keewatin in the fall of 2011 showed that Magnetation's corrective actions were "insufficient."

Magnetation was also fined $10,000 in 2011 for water-quality violations.

5 Nico Products Inc., Minneapolis, fined $10,882 for air quality violations. The business agreed to spend an additional $24,880 on equipment.

The metal-finishing business at 2929 1st Av. S. operated a degreaser for nearly a year that exceeded air emissions limits for solvents. The company also failed to meet reporting requirements.

Nico agreed to buy a degreaser that will reduce emissions and use less of the solvent trichloroethylene.

6 Minnesota State Colleges and University System, St. Cloud and Brainerd, fined $25,700 for hazardous waste violations.

St. Cloud Technical and Community College stored pharmaceutical waste from area hazardous waste generators without properly evaluating the waste.

Contaminated waste, chemicals and stains from college labs were thrown in the trash or disposed of down drains.

The marine and small-engine repair departments at Central Lakes College in Brainerd failed to evaluate rags to determine whether they should be treated as hazardous waste.

7 Reed Burgstahler, Stewart, fined $14,500 for solid waste violations.

Burgstahler burned down several abandoned farm buildings near Gibbon, Minn., in Sibley County. Some of the buildings contained asbestos and painted materials.

Burgstahler failed to get burn permits and properly remove asbestos. The MPCA inspected his property after two separate burning incidents.

Burgstahler was told to obtain disposal permits, clean up the site and write a letter to the editor of The Land, a Mankato farm publication, "informing readers that it is illegal to burn old farm buildings and improperly dispose of the debris."

Hard Data digs into public records and puts a spotlight on rule breakers in Minnesota. Contact me at jfriedmann@startribune.com.

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