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American Crystal fined $135,000 for emission violations in East Grand Forks, Crookston

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EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn.—American Crystal Sugar Co. will pay a $135,000 fine and take measures to reduce hydrogen sulfide emissions that exceed state regulatory levels at its East Grand Forks and Crookston plants.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced Tuesday it had signed an agreement with American Crystal. State inspectors detected 280 instances between 2013 and 2016 in which ambient air around the East Grand Forks and Crookston facilities exceeded limits for hydrogen sulfide, according to a news release.

American Crystal disputed the number of violations and denied the violations reported by the state were the result of intentional or willful conduct, but ultimately decided the stipulation was "reasonably fair," said Douglas Emerson, environmental affairs manager for the company.

"Crystal Sugar is always trying to operate our facilities in a neighborly way," he said. "Even though we were under the guidance of this management strategy that has come to be, that's just another thing that we have to do and we would have likely done it anyways."

Hydrogen sulfide gas can produce a "rotten egg" smell and can cause coughing, shortness of breath and burning eyes in low concentrations, especially when exposure lasts for long periods of time, Pollution Control spokesman Daniel Olson said.

Olson said standards set by Pollution Control are set to catch low levels of hydrogen sulfide and catch issues in early stages. That way, they can be corrected before they become a problem for workers and nearby residents, he said.

American Crystal has agreed to pay the fines while taking steps to correct the sources of the emissions, according to an agreement signed in late October.

The fine comes nearly a decade after the sugar company signed a stipulation to pay $185,000 for similar problems from 2005 to 2007 at its Moorhead, East Grand Forks and Crookston plants. American Crystal spent $12 million—$6 million at East Grand Forks and $3 million each in Moorhead and Crookston—to fix those problems, according to statements made in the agreement.

"After fulfilling the requirements of the 2008 stipulation agreement, (American Crystal) has continued to invest in reducing H2S emissions and odors, voluntarily spending an additional $61 million—more than five times the amount required under the 2008 stipulation agreement—including over $27 million at Crookston, almost $25 million at East Grand Forks, and almost $9 million at Moorhead," the statement said.

"We've spent a lot of money to make things better," Emerson said. "I think the community can attest to that."

The company also was fined $8,700 for a similar incident reported earlier this year at its Moorhead facility.

American Crystal has until Dec. 31, 2019, to take corrective action for the most recent violations in East Grand Forks and Crookston.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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