Northland plants violate clean water standards in 2005

Seven industrial and municipal plants in Northeastern Minnesota violated federal clean water permit standards at least once in 2005, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Seven industrial and municipal plants in Northeastern Minnesota violated federal clean water permit standards at least once in 2005, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Across Minnesota, about 90 municipal sewage plants, power plants, paper mills and other industrial plants reported violations of their operating permits in 2005.

The permits are required under the Clean Water Act.

The News Tribune requested the information in advance of a report released Thursday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group that reveals water pollution violations reported to the Environmental Protection Agency in 2005, the most recent year complete data is available for.

In Northeastern Minnesota, the 2005 permit violations include the Boise White Paper LLC mill in International Falls for dissolved oxygen and excess sediment; the Hibbing Wastewater Treatment Plant for excess phosphorus; Minnesota Power's Boswell Energy Center in Cohasset for excess copper and sediment; Northshore Mining's Peter Mitchell mining pit for excess nitrogen and ammonia, excess iron, sediment and water pH and for excess amphibole, asbestos-like fibers; the Northern Koochiching Waster Treatment plant in International Falls for dissolved oxygen; and the Two Harbors Wastewater Treatment Plant for excess fecal coliform.


Northshore Mining had the most separate violations, 14, while Minnesota Power's Boswell plant reported seven.

The USPIRG report calls attention to ongoing violations of pollution standards as the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act is marked next week.

Nationally, USPIRG reported that 57 percent of all municipal and industrial facilities across the U.S. discharged more pollution into lakes and rivers than they are allowed under law. Each violator exceeded their permit by an average of 263 percent.

The group also notes that the list of impaired waters in Minnesota and nationally -- lakes and rivers that are officially unfit for swimming or fishing or both -- continues to increase despite the federal law signed by President Nixon.

"Thirty-five years later, our water quality has improved, but the goals remain unmet,'' said Spencer Roth, student intern for USPIRG, noting 45 percent of Minnesota rivers and 37 percent of lakes are officially impaired. Roth added that the violations don't include small facility violations or air pollution that falls into water.

USPIRG and other groups on Thursday called on Congress to battle back efforts by the Bush administration to weaken the act and instead strengthen the law to eliminate chronic pollution violations. They gave strong support to a bill by U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn. that would reapply Clean Water Act protections to remote waterways.

Those protections have been stripped by recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

"Minnesota's heritage is built on water. It's where we live, it's where we work, it's where we play,'' said Rose Loeffler-Kemp, local coordinator for the group Clean Water Action, in support of the Oberstar bill that has 170 Democrat and Republican co-sponsors.


Paul Scheirer, supervisor of the PCA's northern municipal unit, said the agency's reaction to violations can range from informal discussions to notice of violations, stipulation agreements and fines. He said all of the 2005 violations that needed immediate attention have been addressed.

In Minnesota, the majority of violations occurred at wastewater treatment plants, and officials say that reflects the need for increased state and federal money to upgrade those plants to help clean up waterways.

Nationally, the 3,600 major facilities with permits exceeded limits more than 24,000 times. Some 628 facilities exceeded their permits for six or more months during 2005. The 10 states with the most violations in 2005 were Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, California, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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