Aitkin Agri-Peat Mercury Pollution

The Aitkin Agri-Peat mine in Cromwell, Minnesota requested a permit from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to reopen hundreds of acres of bogs and wetlands for peat mining in the Mississippi River Watershed. In connection with the re-opening of the Agri-Peat Cromwell mine, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) gave notice on June 7, 2011 of its intent to issue an NPDES/SDS water pollution permit for the peat mine.

The proposed permit would have allowed re-opening of a peat mine without setting any limits for mercury discharge. WaterLegacy’s research disclosed the following:

  • The prior permit for the Aitkin Agri-Peat mine had contained a water quality based effluent limit (WQBEL) for mercury;
  • The Aitkin Agri-Peat mine had a history of violation of mercury standards;
  • The waters into which the Aitkin Agri-Peat mine discharges are waters that are impaired for mercury, so that fish already have excessive mercury contamination;
  • Federal law prohibits “backsliding”, namely weakening of water quality permits, such as removing a mercury limit from a permit like the Aitkin Agri-Peat permit.
WaterLegacy’s work

On July 6, 2011 WaterLegacy submitted Comments and Exhibits A through H to the MPCA and to U.S. EPA staff requesting that a mercury limit be included in the permit, along with appropriate monitoring. After meeting with MPCA staff and further discussions, on August 31, 2011, WaterLegacy submitted additional Comments and Exhibits I through J below.

WaterLegacy results

The U.S. EPA is conducting an investigation of this permit as a result of WaterLegacy’s advocacy. No permit will be issued until concerns regarding mercury are addressed.

Key Documents:

WaterLegacy’s comments on the Aitkin Agri-Peat wastewater pollution permit, July 6, 2011

Exhibit A        U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Notice for Aitkin Agri-Peat, Inc.   

Exhibit B         MPCA, Notice of Intent to Reissue NPDES/SDS Permit for Aitkin agri-peat Inc. – Cromwell Facility

Exhibit C         MPCA, Draft/Proposed NPDES/SDS Permit for Aitkin agri-peat Inc. – Cromwell Facility

Exhibit D        MPCA, Statement of Basis, Aitkin agri-peat, Inc. – Cromwell

Exhibit E         U.S. EPA, Detailed Report on Aitkin Agri-Peat Inc. Cromwell

Exhibit F         MPCA, Peat Operations and Environmental Protection (1996).

Exhibit G        Johnson, K.W. 2008. Permitting horticultural peat operations in Minnesota

Exhibit H        MPCA, Denial of Section 401 Certification, Waupaca Northwoods (2008)

WaterLegacy Comments on Aitkin-Agri Peat Cromwell (Aug. 31, 2011)

Exhibit I          MPCA, Aitkin Agri-Peat NPDES/SDS Permit (August 10, 2006).

Exhibit J          MPCA, Aitkin Agri-Peat Discharge Monitoring Reports – Mercury

Exhibit K        U.S. EPA, NPDES Permit Writers’ Manual (September 2010), excerpt.