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Cottage Grove: 3M incinerator permits address city concerns

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Proposed permit changes that would allow 3M Co. to burn hazardous wastes from outside the company at its Cottage Grove incinerator address concerns laid out by the city in a 2010 agreement between the city and company, city officials said.

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The proposed Minnesota Pollution Control Agency permits include limits on what wastes could be accepted from outside sources -- and how much of it could be burned each year -- in addition to a requirement that 3M conduct a lengthy update of a detailed risk assessment to determine if there is any added risk to human health from the changes.

Those issues were addressed in a 2010 memorandum of understanding between 3M and the city that also established an independent air monitoring program launched near the 3M Cottage Grove facility last year.

"All of our items have been addressed in the permit," said City Engineer Jennifer Levitt.

The amended permits also lower emission limits and require more stringent testing of non-3M waste, said Trevor Shearen, an MPCA engineer who worked on the permits. The company is currently emitting far below the incinerator's limits, he told City Council members during a meeting that included representatives from 3M last week.

3M and the MPCA have asserted there will be a minimal increase in emissions under the changes that would allow the company to accept hazardous waste not produced by the company as a supplement to the company's own waste supply from across North America. The additional hazardous material, 3M officials say, would help the company save as much as $2 million per year by replacing natural gas that is used to keep the incinerator burning efficiently with non-3M wastes with high fuel value.

The expected difference in emissions "is just not significant," said Vickie Batroot, the site director at 3M Cottage Grove. The MPCA has said the changes could lead to as much as roughly 1 ton of additional air emissions per year.

State pollution control officials are accepting public comment on the proposed permit amendments until April 23. A hearing before a state board is expected to render a judgment on the issue in late May.

City officials resisted the proposed changes at the four-decade-old incinerator when 3M publicly announced its plan in early 2009. Though the city has no permitting authority, the company agreed to delay its proposal, eventually moving forward following the agreement struck between 3M and Cottage Grove in 2010.

The air monitoring program begun last year established a baseline for ambient air quality in the area, city officials said. Any major increases in emissions that occur when 3M begins accepting outside waste will be detected, said Council member Justin Olsen.

"If it's measurable we'll be able to see it," he said.

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