Contact: Cathy Rofshus, 507-206-2608
Gibbon, Minn. ― A Sibley County landowner has been investigated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for the burning of a house and other structures that contained materials such as painted wood, painted metal, vinyl siding, and appliances in October 2011.
The MPCA conducted a follow-up inspection a month after the initial incident, after receiving a report that the landowner, Reed Burgstahler, had burned additional buildings at the site. Agency staff found three additional burn areas that included ash, wood, shingles, painted wood, paint cans, asphalt roofing and garbage. Some of the materials later tested positive for asbestos.
Asbestos refers to a group of minerals with long, thin fibers that do not burn and were once used in building materials. The fibers are too small to by seen by human eyes. If people inhale asbestos, the fibers can become lodged in their lungs, affecting breathing and leading to diseases such as cancer.
The burning of buildings violated state laws that require permits for waste disposal, prohibit open burning unless meeting certain conditions, require removal of asbestos-containing materials before demolition, and require submission of a notice to perform a demolition to the MPCA. These laws are designed to prevent contamination of land and water resources as well as protect air quality.
Burgstahler has agreed to pay a $14,500 penalty for the incidents, which occurred in an abandoned farm grove near Gibbon in Sibley County, located north of New Ulm in south-central Minnesota.
In addition to the financial penalty, Burgstahler must clean up the site and dispose of the waste at a facility with the appropriate permits. He is also being required to submit a letter to the editor of "The Land," a statewide farm publication, informing readers that it is illegal to burn old farm buildings and improperly dispose of the debris.
The settlement, known as a stipulation agreement, is one of the tools used to achieve compliance with environmental laws. Under a stipulation agreement, the regulated party agrees to perform certain actions to correct the problem and prevent it from occurring again. Monetary penalties are also sometimes assessed. When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violation affected the environment, whether it was a first-time or repeat violation, and how promptly the violation was reported to appropriate authorities. The agency also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by the regulated party by failing to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.