EPA demands state to take action in Karst Region
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken drastic action by instructing Minnesota agencies to take immediate steps to address the nitrate contaminated drinking water crisis threatening the karst region in southeastern Minnesota, including northern Dodge County.
In a move considered as a major victory for environmental organizations, the EPA has put Minnesota on formal notice that it needs to work across state agencies to urgently address the crisis as a way to provide safe, alternative drinking water for impacted residents.
The federal agency sent a letter on Nov. 3 detailing its expectations to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. The letter came in response to a petition filed by various environmental organizations in April asking the federal agency to intervene in the ongoing public health crisis. The lead organization is Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA). Among the other organizations are Land Stewardship Project and the Izaak Walton League.
“It’s significant that this is addressed to multiple agencies because this problem calls for a ‘one Minnesota solution,’” MCEA’s director of strategic litigation, Leigh Currie, said of the letter. Currie added that she’s hopeful Governor Walz’ office will also see benefit in enacting a multi-agency response to the crisis. “We know what causes this pollution. It’s time for Minnesota’s agricultural lobby and the Department of Agriculture to come to the table and agree to real solutions to eliminate this public health threat.”
According to the EPA, nearly 400,000 Minnesotans live in the karst region, nearly 95,000 of whom rely on private wells, which are more vulnerable to nitrate pollution due to the lack of public oversight.
Nitrate pollution has been linked to the potentially fatal newborn condition known as Blue Baby Syndrome, as well as a host of other birth defects, pregnancy complications and various cancers and other health conditions.
One of the areas included in the Karst Region is northern Dodge County where four homes on the two-mile stretch along County Road B have been touched by cancer. Local residents have dubbed the area, “cancer road.” Since the 1980s, 15 people have been diagnosed with tumors, often rarer and more aggressive forms, seven of whom have died.
Olmsted County is also included in the Karst Region. Other counties are Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Wabasha and Winona.
Since the filing of the petition back in April, nearly 1,000 Minnesotans have signed on to the campaign calling for state intervention.
The MCEA claims runoff from cropland sources, in particular fertilizer and animal manure from large-scale industrial agricultural operations and concentrated animal feeding operations are the biggest sources of nitrate-pollution in the state. The runoff seeps quickly into groundwater in the Karst Region due to the particularly porous bedrock found in the area.
The EPA’s directive is drawing sharp criticism from at least one politician. Congressman Brad Finstad slammed the EPA and defended farmers against what he calls “radical environmental activism.”
“It is completely unacceptable that EPA is targeting Minnesota family farmers at the behest of environmental extremists,” said Finstad. “As a Congressman and fourth-generation farmer, I know first-hand the care with which Minnesota farmers work to conserve their soil and water and pass their livelihood down to the next generation. EPA has demonstrated time and time again that they are unwilling to stand up for American farm families as they work to feed and fuel the world, instead doing the bidding of radical environmentalists at farmers’ expense. I am determined to hold EPA accountable for their reckless conduct.”
Finstad is a member of the House Committee on Agriculture and chairman of the subcommittee on Nutrition, Foreign Agriculture and Horticulture. He has sent a letter to the EPA demanding answers after EPA inspectors performed unannounced feedlot inspections at several farm sites in Olmsted and Winona counties.