The Rainy River downstream from International Falls, Minn., acts as the border between the United States and Canada. (Jeff Walters/CBC) A sulfuric acid spill at a mill in International Falls, Minn., continues to cause concern for communities downstream on the Rainy River.
The spill occurred sometime in the early morning hours of July 20 at the mill, owned by Packaging Corporation of America. The chemical made its way into the mill’s sewer system.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) said the mill attempted to neutralize the acid but was unsuccessful, and some of the chemical ended up flowing through to the Rainy River.
The mill was shut down for a period of time while new bacteria was brought in to re-start the company’s sewage works. The Packaging Corporation of America/Boise mill in International Falls, Minn. (Laurel Beager/International Falls Journal) "We have not yet documented the obvious impacts to the river," said Jeff Stollenwerk, the Manager of Compliance and Enforcement with the MPCA. "We’ve been working with our Department of Natural Resources, as well as the Koochiching County Soil and Water Conservation District and monitoring conditions in the river."
"They’re looking for any signs of a fish kill," he continued. "At this point, we have not documented any obvious impacts to the river. Our investigation is ongoing and we haven’t made any final determination." Border river
The chemical ended up spilling into the Rainy River, which acts as a border between Canada and the United States.
Although the spill occurred on the U.S. side, any contamination could easily end up in Canadian waters.
Rainy River First Nation, which has lands just downstream from the mill, told CBC News it was not notified of the spill until five days after it occurred. That lack of communication concerns the community, said Kiley Shebagegit, the community’s watershed coordinator.
"RRFN’s concerns are two-fold: firstly that the spill occurred and can be attributed to either operator error or equipment malfunction, and secondly that it was not reported," Shebagegit said in an e-mail.
"We are trying to surmise who is at fault for the communication breakdown, and from the information we have at hand, it appears to be Boise/PCA."
Stollenwerk said the MPCA is continuing its investigation into the acid spill. He said the fact two countries could be impacted by the spill creates additional challenges.
"The communications do become a little bit more challenging," said Stollenwerk. "We do have a protocol. Some questions have been raised as to how effective it was in this case, so that’s becoming part of our investigation as well."
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