Just Don't Inhale

With the attention paid to the hazards of coal-fired power plant recently, you asthmatics might want to blame Xcel Energy and other power producers for your hacking and wheezing. Think again. According to a report released last week by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the big bad utilities don't top the list when it comes the release of so-called "respiratory toxicants" in Minnesota.

That dubious distinction belongs to an agricultural outfit, CHS Oil Seed Processing in Mankato. In 2004, according to U.S. PIRG's review of the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory data, CHS released a total of 520,000 pounds of respiratory toxicants at its Mankato plant. Statewide, the report says, industrial facilities released almost 12 million pounds of respiratory toxicants.

Meanwhile, Flint Hill Resources, an oil refinery in Rosemount, tops the list for reproductive toxicants, release an estimated 10,561 pounds of the worrisome chemicals. Another Rosemount company, Spectro Alloys Corporation, which manufactures aluminum alloys, is the state's leading emitter of dioxin (at a modest 2.4 grams). Super Radiator Coils in Chaska leads the overall carcinogen release category at 125,250 pounds.

This could be the next-to-last year Minnesotans have such access to such a complete data set. That's because the EPA changed recently changed its reporting rules, effectively weakening the public's ability to know, according to Monique Sullivan, U.S. PIRG's Minnesota field organizer.

"According to the EPA's own reports, toxic pollution has decreased 57 percent nationwide since 1998 [when the toxic release inventory was created]," says Sullivan. "It served as a very powerful incentive."

Right-to-know legislation seems to be gaining a foothold in Congress. Two members of the Minnesota congressional delegation—DFLers Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum—have signed on as co-sponsors. The big question, says Sullivan, is whether such a bill would fall victim to a presidential veto.