Hot Air

THESE ARE GOOD days for viewing the plume from the downtown Minneapolis garbage incinerator: It rises high into the super-chilled air, a reminder of what happened to all the holiday junk you threw out last week. Most of the stuff in that plume is comparatively harmless water vapor. Then there's fine dust (a.k.a. "particulate matter," a potential cause of lung cancer and assorted respiratory ailments), dioxins, mercury, cadmium, lead, carbon monoxide, and the acid-rain-causing nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides. By state Pollution Control Agency numbers, the burner currently emits 862 tons per year of all those things put together. It does so under a permit that's been expired for five years; it took the MPCA that long to figure out how to crunch the numbers for a new one.

Under the new permit, on which the public can comment until February 2, the burner could emit more than it currently does; agency spokesman Peter Torkelson says that probably won't happen, since burner emissions depend largely on the composition of the waste stream, which isn't likely to drastically change. Still, Torkelson says the agency expects at least a few opponents at a public meeting on the matter January 20 at the Minneapolis Public Library. Longtime critic Leslie Davis will be there, telling the agency that its limits, among other things, contribute to water pollution that now makes fish from Minneapolis lakes dangerous for pregnant women. Davis also plans to petition the agency for a "contested-case hearing" later this year.

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