MPCA – Who we are, what we do


In the beginning, there was this place called away. Away, was where we sent all are nasty stuff so we could prevent disease. Because in those days everyone knew that you got sick because of stinky things. So, we filled in swamps and wetlands and dumped waste in rivers to send the stink away. By the 1920’s the Twin Cities dumped 1.5 million gallons of raw sewage directly into the Mississippi River, everyday. Years of dumping raw sewage, industrial waste, sawdust, garbage, animal remains and chemicals caught up with us. By the 1950’s, half the metro wells in unsewered areas were contaminated by sewage. Ducks could walk across the floating mats of sewage on the Mississippi. There were places the sludge was so deep that nothing could live in it except sewer worms – no animals, no fish, no insects. In January of 1963, a storage tank filled with soybean oil collapsed in Mankato creating a 30-foot wave of oil that swept trucks and train cars along in its wake. 3,000,000 gallons of soybean oil spilled and was “cleaned up” by being pushed into nearby rivers. The oil went away flowing from smaller rivers into the Minnesota River and eventually to the Mississippi. By spring, the soybean oil in the river combined with 1,000,000 gallons of petroleum oil from earlier spill. It made a sticky, gooey mess that killed thousands of ducks downriver. People were outraged by the destruction. One citizen was so upset that he collected two bushel baskets of dead, oily ducks and dumped them in the rotunda of the state capital. He told the legislators that something had to be done. We had finally realized that there is no such place as “away”. The environmental disaster caused by the oil and the calls for action that resulted, led to the creation of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 1967. For 50 years we’ve been cleaning up the water the land and the air of all the things that were sent “away” and working to protect people and the environment from what was left behind. Clean air means a healthier environment for people and animals to work live and play in. Minnesota has some of the cleanest air in the nation. Over the past 20 years, we’ve decreased the amount of toxins and other harmful pollutants in our air. We do this by regulating sources like factories and power plants and spreading awareness about non-regulated sources like cars, trucks and residential wood-burning. We give business owners and citizens the tools they need to make more environmentally sound decisions and we monitor the air and alert the public when air pollution exceeds healthy levels. We’re looking in the Phillips communities in south Minneapolis. It’s an urban area…it has one of the most highly trafficked areas. There are some notable sources also in this area. We are about halfway through an air pollution study in south Minneapolis and Mille Lacs Minnesota. So it looks like this at the canister galvanized steel cannister. It hangs for three months at a time…we swap them out every three months for two years. We open it up and then we can put a a resin tube in the middle and this tube here contains a powder. And the powder is very sticky for certain types of air pollutants. And we can put it back in here…you can see the bottom of it is open so the air can diffuse or flow up through the sampler and then any air pollutants that we’re interested in will stick to that powder within the resin tube. There are many different types of sources of what we call PAH’s polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Automobiles are one, diesel emissions have some PAH’s, construction equipment. There are certain fuels that are burned – wood smoke would create some, tobacco smoke, also create some PAH’s. They are both carcinogens so they are known to be causal and lung cancer at longer levels and higher levels of exposure and some of the smaller compounds are related to respiratory irritation. It’s a two-year study and if the levels are high we can look at why that might be. And as an agency use that to prioritize our work. Biking, obviously, is a lower impact transportation but it’s also easier in the summer because we can bike right up to our sampling locations. We can bike through parking lots to get to our sampling locations. In the summer there’s lots of construction so we can take different routes and and get there faster and it’s easier to unload right up next to our sampler, so there are lots of reasons for bicycling. Another great reason to bicycle we’re, stopped we’ve got the trailer we have a ladder in the trailer, it’s very visual. And so people do stop a lot to ask us what we’re doing and people are interested and it’s especially nice if its families and we’re talking to kids about, you know…this is if you like science this is a job you can get do this work but also that we’re doing your quality monitoring in the neighborhood is one of the things the agency does. Hazardous waste can be liquids, solids, gases or sludges. All require special handling, storage and disposal. Improperly managed waste has led to a number of contaminated sites around Minnesota. Our Superfund program creates clean up plans for abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites that pose risks to people or the environment. We work to clean up the contamination along with leaking petroleum storage tanks and closed landfills. Our goal is to make the land safe and usable again. It took nearly 30 years to fill this parcel of land with residential trash. But, in barely three months, contractors will be reducing the pile by more than a third. It’s typical in one sense that we’re consolidating the footprint. This particular landfill is 26 acres in size and we’re going to reduce it down to a footprint of about 17 acres. Heather Libby is a design and oversight consultant for the MPCA. She notes the project is unusual in its level of public interest. When I pulled up today I saw a guy in a van sitting out watching and he he had noted that he used to work here. It’s got a lot of history. This landfill began as a city dump in Hopkins in the 1950’s. This was days before there were rules for such things. If it operated as a dump they probably burned waste at times here as well. Up through about 1971 at that time the PCA was getting a handle on all of the open dumps and requiring them to either closed or be permitted as a sanitary landfill. So this particular landfill did get permitted as a sanitary landfill in 1971 and it closed 1980. At about one and a half million cubic yards of waste in it all together. What is a atypical about this particular landfill is that there are so many residents located so close to the waste. Some cases within 50 feet of the waste. The proximity to nearby residential properties is what made it the number one priority on the state’s closed landfill priority list. There have been no gas vapor intrusions into nearby homes but that possibility does exist – so the need for this project. Once the newly condensed, slightly taller pile is created, it will be overlaid with a cover that meets modern standards. It will also include an active gas extraction system. It’s like putting a vacuum cleaner hose into the waste and it’s sucking that gas out of the waste that way. And then it exhausts it into the flare where it could be burned. Minnesota’s water supports a variety of uses like recreation, drinking water, and agriculture. It also supports a diversity of aquatic wildlife. Our lakes and rivers are a big part of our culture and economy. We look at fish and bugs to identify stressors like excess nutrients and sediment. We also monitor the pollutants that flow with water through drainage tiles and ditches, waste water pipes and agricultural runoff. We help to promote innovative techniques like buffers along streams, control drainage and rain gardens to keep pollution out of our water. It may not look like it, but these scientists are examining this stream much like a doctor might give you a checkup. Instead of tapping your knees for reflexes or listening to your heart for arrhythmias, they’re taking an inventory. And what they are counting are fish and macroinvertebrates – also known as the smaller critters and insects that the fish live on. Right now we just got done electrofishing our reach and now we’re going to sort the fish by species into different buckets. And after we get done sorting them all we’re going to count them and measure and weigh them. You know everything is connected all the waters are interconnected. You know everything flows downstream so what happens upstream in the headwaters of the watershed can have significant impacts on the quality of your downstream waters. The team weighs, measures, and classifies the fish they pull from this creek. Mike Feist says ditches creeks and streams flowing into rivers are much like the circulatory system in the human body with blood from capillaries and veins flowing to major arteries. A reminder that good health begins in unlikely places. In a watershed there’s a variety of impacts. And in the biology that we see in streams integrate the cumulative effects of those impacts or stressors and pollutants. So you know you’ve got altered hydrology, land-use, neutrification, there’s all sorts of issues that could be affecting a place. This biomonitoring in the Cannon River watershed is going on all over the state. Each of the state’s 81 watersheds are being monitored on a 10-year cycle. You know after we are in doing our first year of monitoring you know it goes through assessment. We will actually assess the waters to determine if they’re meeting their designated uses. Those designated uses are defined by the Clean Water Act and they center around water being fishable, swimmable and drinkable. With roughly 92,000 miles of streams across Minnesota, there is no way to do this kind of testing in all of them. Instead they are chosen to be a representative example of what’s happening in this watershed. You know we know that we can’t sample everywhere when we do our routine monitoring but where we find problems there will be additional monitoring to determine what might be causing those problems. Regulating pollution from permanent sources is only part of our battle. The rest of our work lies in educating and encouraging Minnesotans to do their part to protect and improve the environment. We produce award-winning exhibits at the Minnesota State Fair Eco Experience. These dynamic interactive exhibits help Minnesotans of all ages learn about specific actions they can take to pollute less. We also provide grants and other financial assistance to business owners to upgrade their equipment and processes. Both of which create a healthier work environment for their employees. When we think of what causes air pollution, most of us probably think of smokestacks. But the reality is the less than a third of our air pollution comes from industrial sources like these. The rest of it comes from us…our vehicles, our commerce and just daily living. To cut ground level ozone we need to cut VOCs. So where do VOCs come from? They come from vehicles and from thousands of small widespread sources like paint shops, printers and metal finishers. Last year the legislature gave funding to the MPCA to help small businesses reduce VOCs. About a dozen businesses received grants. Oscar Auto Body in south Minneapolis is one of those businesses. Owner Ramin Hakimi was able to switch from solvent based paints that emit VOCs to safer water based paints. The change was something Ramin had wanted to do because of the direction the industry is going. Well, we saw that California had already mandated going to water base because of the pollution and we knew that it was really a matter of time for us to have to do it. It’s also good for business. The fact that the auto manufacturers had already moved to using this system made us believe that we’ll have a closer match to original paints. So that was another factor. This is absolutely one of the best things that has happened to us. Making this switch wasn’t easy but he feels it was worth it. Obviously there’s much less pollution. A closer match a better job and with this booth a much faster process. So it’s a win-win for everyone. I feel responsible for all of my employees here so I want to make it a environment that they are happy and healthy to be in and this this was a no-brainer to make this decision. And I’m very proud that I am here and I’m thankful that I got this help. Protecting our air, water and land may seem like a straightforward task but getting the work done can be tough. We partner with entities at every level from grassroots organizations focused on environmental justice to local municipalities, other state agencies and tribal governments. And at the federal level, the US Environmental Protection Agency. Our work includes securing funding and support from the Minnesota Legislature to pursue projects like protecting wild rice waters, reducing agricultural runoff with buffers and preventing costly wastewater treatment problems caused by flushable wipes. We’re talking about Duluth today we’re talking about the St. Louis River estuary. That great resource that is upstream of the lift bridge and downstream of the bluffs. At the request of Governor Mark Dayton, sharing information about his proposed legislative initiative for a supplemental budget – a bonding request for 12.7 million dollars to help with the remediation and cleanup of the St. Louis River. Which is a federally designated area of concern on the Great Lakes. 12.7 million dollars will leverage more than 25 million dollars in federal funds because of the existence of the Great Lakes restoration initiative. And so that brings the total up to 47 million dollars that we could use to remedy the problems of the past; pollution that was caused by industrial activities dumping and contaminating the sediment of the river and these wetland areas adjacent to the river. Things that include in the contaminants are mercury, dioxin, PCBs, metals and other toxins. These toxins are dangerous to human health and they’re also dangerous to the environment. Their existence, without a remedy, limits what people can do recreationally on the river. Our plan is to complete all the work needed to eliminate the pollution on this area of concern by the year 2020 and this is an important step in that direction. It’s not the only step but it’s a significant one. We have more than 40 partners working with us in support of this project and its historic because of the agreement that these community groups; the non-governmental organizations interested in fishing and in the environment, are all working together on a common plan. So specifically, on this project, these bond funds would clean up 10 different, unique sites along the St. Louis River. If all these sites are cleaned up, when they’re cleaned up, it will lead to 50 billion dollars in direct economic benefits to our country. Not only ours, but to our Canadian neighbors those communities will also benefit as the great lakes are restored. If all these sites are restored not only will it benefit the local economy, the national economy it’ll it’ll improve coastal property values by up to 19 billion dollars it’s estimated. And we know from previous work that every dollar spent on remediation and restoration of contaminated sites, produces two to three dollars in return. We want both cities of Duluth and Superior to be able to turn their face again to the river. This is going on across the Great Lakes across our country and we’re really eager to get these dollars working on restoring this resource. Nothing in nature stands alone. Our air, water and land are all interconnected. As a matrix organization, we equip our workforce to solve problems together, across programs and throughout leadership levels. Every five years we create a strategic plan to chart the agency’s direction. We’re transparent and making data accessible and understandable to the public, state legislators and other stakeholders. We rely on this information to drive key decisions about how we approach our work and to assess how effectively we live out our mission. upbeat music upbeat music – sound of waves crashing upbeat music – sound of rain/thunder upbeat music – sound of wind upbeat music – sound of birds & girl giggling night sounds – crickets/loons

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