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Crystal Sugar fined $185K

Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar - hit with a $185,000 civil penalty in connection with problems that caused odors in three Minnesota towns - promises to do better.

"We take this very seriously, and we're making a real commitment to improve," said David Berg, the cooperative's president and chief executive officer.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced Tuesday that American Crystal has agreed to pay $185,000 and to take steps to keep hydrogen sulfide levels within permitted levels at three beet-processing factories.

The agreement addresses alleged hydrogen sulfide violations at American Crystal's factories in Moorhead, Crookston, Minn., and East Grand Forks, Minn., in 2005, 2006 and 2007, according to the agency.

Hydrogen sulfide is an odorous gas that can be hazardous to human health at certain concentrations, the agency said.

In this case, the gas came from decomposing sugar beets and sugar beet processing waste, the agency said.

The agreement also covers alleged violations of fine particle emission standards at the Moorhead and East Grand Forks locations, the agency said.

Berg said American Crystal received complaints about odors from residents in Fargo-Moorhead, Crookston and the East Grand Forks area. Those complaints involved odors related to hydrogen sulfide.

Fargo-Moorhead residents were particularly upset by extreme skunk-like odors in spring 2007.

A larger-than-average crop in 2006, which caused more beets to be stored outdoors, was thought to be a factor, Berg said.

The cooperative is spending millions of dollars on new equipment intended to reduce hydrogen sulfide, Berg said.

"We want this to be the last time there are problems with odors," he said.

FAST FACTS: Hydrogen sulfide

What is hydrogen sulfide?: Hydrogen sulfide is a flammable, colorless gas that is toxic at extremely low concentrations. It is heavier than air, and may accumulate in low-lying areas. Its odor is similar to "rotten eggs."

Effects on humans: Hydrogen sulfide Concentrations of more than 100 parts per million can disable a person's ability to smell by paralyzing the olfactory nerve. Concentrations of more than 300 parts per million can be fatal by poisoning the respiratory system.

Source: OSHA Web site