Four cities to test wells after audit raise pollution fears

4 Minnesota cities will conduct impartial investigations into their ingesting water provides after a lawsuit was filed by a former authorities worker and the following scrutiny raised issues about how the state might clear up air pollution from hundreds of oil spills.

The legislature awarded $200,000 to the central Minnesota metropolis of Paynesville, which can rent an organization and work with the cities of Alexandria, Blaine, and Foley to check the websites of 4 identified oil spills. The assessments will decide the dangers in ingesting water to higher perceive whether or not cities ought to dig up and take away contaminated soil or let it decompose naturally, the Minnesota Air pollution Management Company (MPCA) has instructed.

“It looks as if the best means to do this is to dig up the location and clear it up and get the whole lot out,” mentioned Baynesville Mayor Sean Rink. “We dug up a few of it, however we have confronted fixed opposition over time from the MPCA, saying ‘No, no, no, that is not the suitable method to do it. “”

MPCA officers mentioned they’ve examined the standard of ingesting water across the leak websites for years and are assured the water is clear and protected.

“Now we have early warning detection programs in place and we’ll know if the contamination is transferring,” mentioned Jamie Wallerstedt, MPCA’s director of remedy. “We’re assured of the shaft’s stability, and we’ll proceed to watch it.”

The MPCA Petroleum Processing Program was first introduced into query in November, when longtime MPCA worker Mark Tossauds lawsuit The company mentioned the managers retaliated in opposition to him for elevating issues that they have been improperly closing circumstances.

Toso, a leaded gasoline knowledgeable who labored within the company’s remediation division from 1992 till his resignation in 2021, mentioned the company routinely classifies leaks that pose a big public well being threat and ingesting water as low threat. In his lawsuit, Tussaud argued that the “low threat” ranking allowed the MPCA to go from cleansing up spill websites to transferring ingesting wells away from air pollution and ready for them to decompose naturally, which might take greater than a century.

Whereas ingesting wells could also be moved to attract clear water, he mentioned, this course of ignores the danger of continued contamination to the general public — notably if the location is redeveloped sooner or later, or a brand new non-public effectively is drilled, or if a brand new non-public effectively is drilled. The air pollution plume spreads and spreads. The MPCA has closed about 5,000 circumstances of gasoline leaking from storage tanks throughout the state.

Tussaud’s lawsuit continues to be pending and the 2 sides are scheduled to satisfy for a mediation session in August.

The Paynesville leak, from the underground storage tanks of a former gasoline station, occurred within the Nineteen Eighties. Leaking tanks and a few soil round them have been eliminated, however the contamination unfold and reached two of town’s 4 wells in 1997. Each needed to be closed and changed.

The MPCA has drilled a collection of monitoring wells to trace the contamination. In 2014, benzene – a carcinogen launched from a leak of leaded gasoline – was found about 1,000 ft from the place town is presently withdrawing its ingesting water. Lawmakers awarded Paynesville almost $2 million that yr to modernize a water remedy plant to take away gasoline and comparable chemical substances. Wallersted mentioned no observations had taken place since then.

In his lawsuit, Tussaud mentioned he and different remedy scientists have argued for years with MPCA administrators that the Paynesville web site must be excavated, as do websites with comparable leaks in Alexandria, Blaine and Foley. Paynesville officers additionally requested a extra full excavation, and have been pissed off when the MPCA disagreed.

“They informed us about any variety of issues about why they would not excavate, that it was too costly, that it could annoy the owners, that the varsity was two blocks away and that you just did not need the youngsters to take care of mud,” Reinke mentioned. “It appeared like a brand new excuse as of right now.”

After studying Toso’s lawsuit, metropolis officers determined they needed an impartial check.

The Legislative Auditor’s Workplace regarded into the MPCA’s petroleum processing program after the lawsuit. auditlaunched in February, discovered a number of points and mentioned the company “doesn’t take into account a lot how the property will probably be used sooner or later” when deciding whether or not or how you can deal with the oil spill.

It additionally discovered that the MPCA depends on consultants – typically employed by polluters – to research leaks and advocate clean-up actions. Whereas the MPCA evaluations their work and finally decides what actions to take, the standard of investigations can fluctuate broadly, employees members informed the evaluation.

The MCPA has no means of disciplining consultants who do a nasty job. The auditors mentioned the consultants have to be registered by the state Petrofund Board, an arm of the Commerce Division, however that registration necessities are minimal and don’t embody any technical {qualifications} or expertise.

In response to the evaluation, MPCA officers mentioned they’d work to higher combine potential future improvement into their threat evaluation investigations. They mentioned they’re speaking with the Commerce Division about methods to extend accountability and transparency with advisors investigating the leaks.

However the company has at all times been and can at all times guarantee that any marketing consultant’s work meets MPCA requirements, Wallerstedt mentioned.

“We persist with the standard of our selections,” she mentioned.

Reinke mentioned he’s not positive when the brand new check will probably be accomplished. He mentioned he hopes it’s going to convey peace of thoughts to residents and metropolis officers.

“We all know our ingesting water is protected now,” he mentioned. “They have been examined repeatedly and all of the impartial assessments have come again positive. However we wish to make certain in 20 years, 50 years and 100 years it’s going to nonetheless be protected or if we’ll take care of all of this once more.”