Northshore Mining Co. has been cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for violating federal clean-air laws.
The EPA alleged Wednesday that Northshore, a subsidiary of Cleveland-Cliffs and its former owner, Cyprus Minerals, modified three taconite furnaces at its Silver Bay processing plant without installing the best available pollution control technology.
The furnace alterations resulted in "significant increases in emissions of nitrogen oxide, particulate (smoke, ash, dust) and carbon monoxide," the EPA announcement said.
The EPA is expected to meet with Northshore officials in March to work toward resolution of the allegations. The agency could issue a compliance order, issue a penalty or file suit against the company in federal court.
EPA officials could not be reached for comment. It's not clear why the agency is acting now on the furnace changes, which company officials say took place a decade ago.
Company officials said Wednesday they only recently learned of the EPA allegations. Company spokesman Dana Byrne issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that "based on Northshore's review of facility permits and understanding to date, Northshore believes its Silver Bay facility has complied with all air permitting requirements, including the use of best available control technology, and is among the lowest-emitting and best-controlled taconite facilities in the world."
Nitrogen oxides contribute to the formation of smog and can cause significant human health problems, the EPA says. Particulate matter such as ash and dust also can cause serious respiratory problems, especially in children and people with lung ailments.
Northshore Mining was recently cited by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for other air, water and stormwater pollution violations and in December paid a $58,250 penalty to the state agency.
That fine came just days after the company received permits from the PCA for a major expansion of taconite processing at the plant that will include an increased amount of asbestos-like fibrous material released from a wastewater treatment plant into the Beaver River.
Though state health officials say the level of fibers will be below any dangerous level, the fibers are the same ones that caused concern when Northshore's predecessor, Reserve Mining, was ordered by federal courts not to dump its waste rock into Lake Superior because it contained so many fibers.
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