Contaminants in Your Own Backyard

Mark Snyder
Do It Green! Minnesota

With recent news stories about asbestos contamination in the Iron Range, arsenic in South Minneapolis or perfluorocarbons seemingly appearing everywhere in Minnesota, it is not surprising that Minnesotans may be growing increasingly concerned about what kinds of chemical hazards may be lurking in our own neighborhoods.

Fortunately, there are some sources of information available to find out what contaminants could be in your own backyard or neighborhood and what you can do about it.

The MPCA maintains an online Environmental Data Access system at that contains information about air quality, surface water quality (lakes, rivers and streams) and a catalog of data on ground water.

Air Quality

If you are interested in air quality, you can search for information on specific facilities (known as point sources), data from specific ambient air monitoring stations, specific geographic areas in Minnesota, or specific information on pollutants you may be concerned about.

Water Quality

If you are interested in water quality, you can search surface water assessments for conditions, monitoring sites, or a text-based search and find permits for specific facilities. Spend some time reviewing the background information available to better understand what exactly you’re looking at. The ground water catalog is a newer feature of the Environmental Data Access system contains data from ambient monitoring programs as well as many clean up programs.

What you can do about it: What you can do will depend on the type of site you are looking at. An active cleanup site or an operating facility with a permit will have agency staff assigned to them that you can contact for more information or get on a public notice list for when a permit comes up for renewal or a cleanup action is proposed. Some facilities may be candidates for Good Neighbor Agreements, which you can learn more about on page 92 in the Business section. You may also want to consider subscribing to the MPCA RSS feed to keep up with public notices and other news releases so that you learn about opportunities to attend hearings or submit public comments. More information about that can be found in the Resource Box.

Read Up

From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement, by Luke W. Cole & Shelis R. Foster, 2001.

Fateful Harvest: The True Story of a Small Town, a Global Industry and a Toxic Secret, by Duff Wilson, Harpercollins, 2001.

Act Locally
Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota (EJAM)
2100 Plymouth Ave. N.
Minneapolis, MN, 612-302-3100

Clean Water Action Alliance of Minnesota,
308 East Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN,


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