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Cottage Grove pleased with results from air monitoring near 3M incinerator

A year's worth of independent air monitoring in Cottage Grove conducted near a controversial 3M hazardous waste incinerator showed levels of air pollutants in the city are on par with other areas of the metro, according to a report delivered recently to the City Council.

Particulates, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds(VOCs) were detected at levels far below health standards set by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, according to a report delivered to the council.

Many pollutants - over half of the 54 elements tested by the ambient air monitor in south Cottage Grove -- were detected at trace levels or not at all, said Tom Henning, the city's environmental consultant from SEH, Inc., the firm that conducted the monitoring.

The report brought welcome news to city officials who have expressed concern over the 40-year-old incinerator and a 3M proposal to begin burning waste not generated by the company at the Cottage Grove facility.

"We're pretty pleased that the results came back as they did," City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said. "Certainly what those results say is that the air quality in Cottage Grove is as good as anywhere else in the metro area."

City and 3M officials agreed to the air monitoring program in 2010 as part of a resolution to a stand-off over 3M's intention to burn waste produced outside the company at its Cottage Grove incinerator as a replacement for increasing amounts of natural gas used in the operation.

The monitor, similar to units put in place around the state by the pollution control agency to measure ambient air quality, took 24-hour samples 27 times between October 2010 and September 2011. The city and SEH worked with MPCA technical staff to ensure the process was consistent with state monitors.

Officials said the first year of sampling provides the city an effective baseline for the area's air quality to measure any changes against pollutant levels when 3M begins taking on outside waste at the incinerator.

3M and the city agreed last fall to halt testing until 3M's proposed changes are approved by the MPCA. The amended incinerator permit has been bogged down for more than a year at both the state and federal level.

Mayor Myron Bailey, who said the city will continue to push the MPCA to add Cottage Grove to its statewide air monitoring network, described the numbers as a relief, saying "people can feel safe in knowing the air in Cottage Grove is safe to breathe."

Despite that, Bailey said he is still opposed to 3M's plan to burn waste from outside the company - in addition to 3M hazardous waste from the company's North American operations - at the Cottage Grove incinerator.

"Even though the testing we did shows there's no issues, obviously just from a pure perception standpoint I'd prefer not to have any more waste in Cottage Grove," Bailey said.