Alta elevator penalized after continual grain dust complaints

Friday, November 6, 2020

The Iowa DNR has issued a consent order for Ag Partners LLC of Albert City over ongoing air quality violations at its grain elevator in Alta. The company is required to take preventative actions and pay a penalty of $6,500.

“DNR has documentation of multiple instances of corn dust and chaff being emitted from the facility and crossing Ag Partner’s Alta facility property lines since 2016,” according to the case documents. In 2017, a complaint to the DNR indicated that corn chaff dust was so bad it was causing people headaches. One resident stated that her family suffers from allergies and respiratory issues, and she could not walk or drive by the facility without being affected. Other complaints said the corn chaff at times blowed across Highway 7, obstructing view, and that the material was getting inside the nearby Casey’s store. Among those complaining were the mayor of Alta. In some cases, complaints included photos or video of grain dust being emitted.

After multiple discussions and meetings with management of the company in response to public complaints, the DNR in 2018 required the company to submit a report on actions to address the problem. The DNR also required hourly checks of the facility. In late 2019, the company was notified of violation of DNR regulations, but the complaints continued.

The consent order required that Ag Partners in Alta must implement best practices to limit dust from crossing property lines, must submit a compliance plan within 30 days, must train employees in additional practices to prevent dust, and must have certain dust control equipment installed.

The consent order is a legally-binding agreement intended to avoid the need for litigation, but the agreement specifies that Ag Partners does not either admit or deny the facts in the case. Ag Partners waived its right of appeal.

The DNR claimed the the company has benefitted financially by delaying purchase of dust control equipment, maintenance and training, and applied a $3,000 penalty due to those gains. A $1,000 penalty was assessed for failing to report any of the excess emissions incidents to the DNR.

DNR documents commented on the gravity of the situation.

“Fugitive dust particulate emissions can trigger asthma attacks as well as other respiratory health problems in humans. Particulate emissions, such as corn dust and chaff, can affect the quality of life for residents and businesses nearby. Property values also can be adversely affected… Ag Partners has a responsibility to be aware of DNR’s air quality rules and to abide by the requirements… operating its Alta facility contrary to the DNR rules and its Group 1 Grain Elevator Registration threatens the integrity of the DNR regulatory program. DNR personnel have spent numerous hours responding to complaints… Although compliance plans have been submitted to the DNR, continued complaints, along with video and photographic evidence, demonstrate that violations are still occurring.”

In September 2020, Ag Partners installed pit baffles on its Dump Pit No. 2. Ag Partners plans to install pit baffles on Dump Pit No. 3.