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Residents Ask for More Time to Study 3M Wastewater Permit

People living near a 3M facility that releases more than 5 million gallons of wastewater into the Mississippi River each day are asking for more time to review and comment on a new permit regulating how that wastewater is treated, according to the Star-Tribune.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) opened a 30-day comment period last month on renewing 3M’s wastewater treatment permit for its Cottage Grove, Minn., plant.

The comment period for the permit is scheduled to end Wednesday.  Either the MPCA commissioner, MPCA Citizens Board or an administrative law judge  will decide whether to approve the permit.

The new permit establishes strict limits on the levels of chemicals, metals and other materials 3M can release into the river in its treated water. It regulates water used in manufacturing of abrasives, resins, polymers, tapes, insulation and ceramics. It also covers water used to scrub 3M’s huge hazardous waste incinerator, which destroys waste from all of the company’s North American operations.

Scott Knowles, a staff engineer for the MPCA, said the proposed new permit includes two significant changes. Knowles said the new permit will regulate discharges of millions of gallons of tainted groundwater being pumped out of sites in Washington County where 3M released perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, which it released when it produced them at the facility between the 1940s and 2002.

3M reached an agreement with MPCA in late December to remediate the drinking water wells.

In addition, the new permit targets a particularly harmful kind of PFC – known as perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS.

According to MPCA, stretch of the Mississippi River below the facility is listed as “impaired” under federal rules because PFOS has been detected in fish there.

PFOS was a key ingredient in Scotchgard products before the company voluntarily phased out its production. MPCA says that groundwater and soil around the Cottage Grove plant are still contaminated, however, and MPCA data show PFOS still making its way to the river.

Knowles said that under the new permit the MPCA is making 3M meet new emission standards for PFOS of 7 nanograms per liter, and is requiring the company to install new technology to achieve the new emissions limit.

Because of the history of plant’s discharges and the new permit’s complexity, as well as a lawsuit between 3M and the state of Minnesota over the PFC cleanup, area residents insist they need more time to review and comment on the proposed permit.

State Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, along with the Cottage Grove City Council, have asked the MPCA for a 30-day extension of the comment period. The Coalition of Concerned Cottage Grove Citizens, a citizen’s group concerned about releases from 3M’s hazardous waste incinerator, is also adding its request for an extension.

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