IDEM meets to discuss local mint stills

CULVER — State environmental officials met with mint farmers Wednesday to discuss permits and dumping of hot water into ditches.
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).
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.
“We’re trying to work with the growers and still be on legal grounds. We don’t anticipate tell-ing anybody they need to cease their discharges,” IDEM’s 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 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.
The mint industry produces about $12 million worth of product in Indiana, almost all of that coming from Starke County. They are eight to ten 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.
Aylesworth is Regional Office Director for IDEM’s Northern Regional Office in South Bend.