The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 4, 2013

MPCA monitors soy plant emissions

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Q: Truth be told, the CHS soybean refinery on Mankato’s west side is a blight and an eyesore. ... Who is monitoring stack emissions and light, noise and odor pollution? More needs to be done to quiet the industrial roar, especially during the cold-weather months.

A: The questioner had several other opinions about the processing facility. Suffice to say, he’s not a fan either of the oilseed processing factory or of city officials who allowed the facility to expand in the past. But as to his specific question ...

Air emissions are monitored and regulated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. In a report issued in July, based on 2011 emissions, Mankato’s CHS facility was not in the top 50 facilities statewide for emissions of lead, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide or particulate matter.

The plant ranked 42nd in release of small particulate matter (less than 10 microns).

But in one category, the CHS plant was a big emitter, according to the PCA report. When it comes to volatile organic compounds, the plant just south of Sibley Park was No. 1 in the state.

Volatile organic compounds covers a wide variety of gases emitted by certain solids or liquids, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Some are naturally occurring. Most odors, for instance, are caused by volatile organic compounds.

Other VOCs are manmade, including the gases arising from paint, paint thinners, copy machines, markers and countless other products. A wide variety of health impacts are attributed to certain VOCs, but the focus of preventing the respiratory effects, nerve damage and other ailments tends to be on indoor air — where VOC levels are often several times higher than outdoor air — even outdoor air in industrial areas. When certain chemicals are used in homes, the VOC levels can be 1,000 times higher than outdoor air.

As for noise pollution, MPCA also regulates that, and complaints can be filed via the MPCA website. Just search online for “MPCA noise complaints.”

The city handles light pollution, but City Manager Tanya Ange said she would need more specifics from the reader about concerns about the lighting at CHS.

“Depending on the light issue, there may be a city follow-up, but it would be helpful to know the details of the issue,” Ange wrote.

Q: When we see drivers education cars around town for teaching kids to drive, the instructors all look so young. Are there any qualifications for them, or do they just have to be 21?

A: They have to be 21 or older and they are required to have been a licensed driver for at least three years to qualify as a driving instructor, according to a review of Minnesota law.

Minnesota’s driving instructor qualification rules are, in Ask Us guy’s opinion, a bit quirky. For instance, convicted murderers can serve as driving instructors (although only for students older than 21) but hard-of-hearing folks generally can’t.

Just to be clear, Ask Us guy is not suggesting that any local driving schools hire convicted murderers. Schools can set much more stringent hiring criteria than law requires, and Ask Us guy is confident that they do so. But state law technically allows murderers, other violent offenders and people convicted of sex crimes to serve as driving instructors for all but the younger driving students.

Also, to be clear, the state doesn’t have to issue a license to convicted criminals. State law requires instructors to undergo a background check, and former criminals can get an instructor license only if the state “determines that the crime doesn’t directly relate to the position of instructor or ... the person has shown competent evidence of sufficient rehabilitation and present fitness to perform the duties of instructor.”

Other requirements to be a driving instructor include a possession of a valid driver’s license and a high school diploma — and the ability to “hear well enough to conduct a normal verbal conversation with another at a distance of five feet.”

Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, P.O Box 3287, Mankato, MN 56002. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to; put Ask Us in the subject line.