IDEM, growers meet over mint stills

CULVER — State environmental officials met with mint farmers last week to discuss permits and dumping of hot water into ditches.
The meeting was sparked by media publicity about the case of a dog which jumped into a small branch of the Robbins Ditch near Koontz Lake on Aug. 12. The dog was almost instantly scalded to death, and owner Pete Daley’s leg was burned when he jumped in to retrieve the dog.
Operators of mint stills, about 10 farmers and mint industry representatives spent several hours meeting at the Culver-Union Township Public Library with two officials from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM).
“We’re trying to work with the growers and still be on legal grounds. We don’t anticipate telling anybody they need to cease their discharges,” Michael Kuss said. Kuss is senior environmental manager, wastewater compliance, Northern Regional Office of IDEM.
Essentially, mint stills use boilers to distill mint plants, extracting the oil. The excess water may be dumped, sometimes into drainage ditches. IDEM has standards for that water’s temperature, which in August can be no higher than 90 degrees.
Allegedly, the temperature in the ditch where the dog died was between 140 and 190 degrees, near the 212-degree boiling point. Kuss suggested the thermometer used may not have been proper for the reading.
Kuss and Michael Aylesworth of IDEM explained the permitting process, which would be simple for most growers, but there appears to have been a lack of communication.
“The growers I talked to believed they were in compliance and didn’t know they needed a permit,” Les Toews said. Toews is vice president of purchasing for I.P. Callison & Sons of Lacey, Wash., which has a major warehousing facility in Knox.
It has been about 20 years since IDEM and mint farmers met. Farmers were somewhat upset that media were present, and expressed concern about a negative image of mint farming as a result of the situation.
The mint industry produces about $12 million worth of product in Indiana, almost all of that coming from Starke County. There are eight to 10 stills in the county.
Aylesworth said there will be more meetings in the future with growers, and that IDEM will help them find ways to avoid discharges.
Kuss said owners of mint distilleries must obtain a permit if they discharge water into any body of water, except for private ponds with no outlets. They must keep water temperatures within the state standards, which change month by month; temperatures must be checked daily, perhaps several times daily; and they must submit reports of discharges to IDEM monthly.
Also, the discharged water must not produce an oil sheen from the mint, and the water must not contain contaminants that would injure or kill aquatic life, other animals, plants or humans.
What became clear at the meeting is that the requirements are developing. Kuss said he is trying for a permitting and reporting process designed specifically for mint growers.
Kuss said there will be additional meetings in the near future.
Aylesworth is Regional Office Director for IDEM’s office in South Bend.