Frequently Asked Questions

“The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too.” – Luther Standing Bear

These are some of the questions MCNC hears most frequently from concerned citizens. We hope these answers will prove as a valuable resource in helping you understand our great river’s importance as well as its vulnerability. This page will be updated periodically. Please visit often.


What are the boundaries of the “upper Mississippi River corridor” In Minneapolis?

Generally, downtown to the north city limits, including north, northeast and southeast Minneapolis.

What are the sources of pollution in the upper Mississippi River corridor in Minneapolis?

There are two general categories of pollution sources, “point” and “non-point.” Point sources are those that can be identified as coming from a specific place. Point sources in the upper river corridor neighborhoods are numbered in the hundreds. Non-point sources are those that come from many sources and are not specific to one place.

Point sources include industries that emit substances known to cause health and environmental problems such as mercury, lead, chromium, particulate matter (soot) and others identified by government agencies as harmful. Large polluters are required to have “pollution permits” from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and to report annual emissions.

Some facilities emit what are called “fugitive emissions,” substances escaping from industrial activities such as metal plating or manufacturing of solvents and paints. These fugitive emissions can enter the atmosphere through open windows or doors. There are also “stack emissions,” which are emissions not captured inside the plant and are released through stack ventilation or combustion systems. Both fugitive and stack emissions can be controlled by best management practices (using the most up-to-date technology); some industries do better than others at these controls.

Some facilities can also have chemicals on hand that are used in education or retail services. In some cases, facilities dispose of these chemicals as hazardous waste, preventing them from entering the air, water or soil. However, those that cannot be contained are released into the atmosphere, soil or water.

Point sources also include schools, dental offices, auto repair shops, gas stations and others that you might not think as sources of pollution, and who generally are not required to make annual reports.

There are also publicly owned land parcels that produce pollution along the river corridor, including the City’s waste transfer station and the Upper Harbor Terminal (commodities held for barges, which include coal piles). Runoff and leaching from these facilities goes directly into the river.

The MPCA issues pollution permits, but has never denied a permit based on environmental or health concerns. Until recently, the MPCA did not calculate the cumulative effects of multiple pollution sources in a community. MPCA staff have indicated that the agency will begin to address cumulative effects. The communities affected must remain vigilant to assure that this happens.

What citizens can do about point source pollution: It is important for citizens to be aware of the pollution sources in our neighborhoods and ask elected officials to support policies that protect human health and the environment. Many laws now on the books are not effectively enforced because of budget constraints or the lack of political will.

Non-point sources include mobile sources (cars, trucks, trains) and urban runoff. Urban runoff comes from unseparated sewer effluent, which the City of Minneapolis has not adequately addressed. Non-point sources also include such things as decomposing plant matter (e.g., leaves left in the streets and pesticides and herbicides from lawns and gardens). Even lawn mowers, furnaces and wood burning stoves create air pollution. These sources can be controlled and reduced by citizens.

What citizens can do about non-point source pollution: Buy and use cars with efficient mileage or the new hybrid vehicles that use alternative fuels and buy only as “much car” as you need. Walk or use a bike for short trips, cluster errands to reduce driving and try to make your purchases close to home. Neighborhood purchases not only reduce mobile pollution, but they also help retain local businesses in our communities.

Rake leaves out of the street and compost or bag them. Use organic gardening techniques to reduce lawn chemical use. If you do need to use chemicals, carefully follow recommended application rates and dispose of unused material during the county’s periodic hazardous waste drop-off. Reduce the amount of lawn that needs mowing by planting a garden – the added benefit is fresh produce. Divert rain down spouts to grassy areas rather than to sidewalks.

The use of fossil fuels contributes a substantial amount to our air and water pollution. Xcel Energy has agreed to convert the Riverside coal-burning plant to natural gas in the future. However, even natural gas produces toxic emissions, and it will be several years before Riverside is converted. You can sign up for wind power, replace all of your light bulbs with more efficient florescent bulbs and shut off appliances and lights when you are not using them. Support the use of renewable fuels for electric generation. Not only will it save our environment and protect our health, it also will reduce our reliance on foreign fuel sources.

Citizens can press our local elected officials to address the untreated water runoff that enters our rivers and lakes by completing a sewer separation project – making sure rain storms do not force untreated runoff to enter the river.

See our links page for other resources for pollution reduction information.

How can I find out the pollution sources in my neighborhood?

Our links page provides sources for checking the pollution in your neighborhood; www.scorecard.org, sponsored by Environmental Defense, is a good place to start. For example, the Scorecard site will tell you that

“[Hennepin County] ranked among the dirtiest/worst 10% of all counties in the US in terms of an average individual’s added cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants. 1,116,200 people in Hennepin County face a cancer risk more than 100 times the goal set by the Clean Air Act.”

Under right-to-know legislation, citizens are supposed to be able to access pollution information collected by regulatory agencies Some government sites do not provide as much information as they did before September 11, 2001. Rationales for this include: 1) terrorists should not be able to obtain such information, 2) emissions reporting is too burdensome for industries to provide and 3) such information will be “misunderstood” by ordinary citizens or thta environmental “extremists” will use it to harm businesses. However, denying such information to citizens also denies them the right to assess the environmental and human health risks they and their communities face. This is a debate that needs public input, and you should let your elected officials know where you stand.

Why should I care about pollution in the river corridor?

If not you, who? Who will protect our children and grandchildren if we don’t do something today? Environmental organizations are often told that there is no support for their “extreme” views. If clean air, water and soil are important to you, your views need to be heard.

Preventing pollution in the first place will prevent many of the chronic diseases we face today. We know that never starting to smoke is a better prevention than trying to quite the nicotine habit. Good eating habits are better prevention than dealing with diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease. We have to have the same approach to pollution – prevention is better than dealing with the resulting environmental degradation and human health consequences. Get informed and get involved. Join MCNC and help us reduce and eliminate pollution in our community!

The agencies charged to regulate pollution do not do a good job of protecting human and environmental health. Pollution permits are never denied. Local enforcement is spotty and is understaffed and under funded. There are literally hundreds of pollution sources in the upper river corridor, some are not even regulated by the government. No public agency has addressed the cumulative effects of all of these pollution sites on the health and well being of our families and our natural resources.

Some of the pollution sources produce highly toxic emissions that can affect women of child bearing age, children, the elderly and those who already have chronic diseases such as heart conditions and asthma. Minneapolis has an epidemic of asthma among school-age children. Mercury, lead, chromium and many other elements are discharged into our air and water daily. There are no safe levels of lead or mercury, yet our children already have elevated blood lead levels. Mercury levels in river fish are high enough to warrant a warning not to eat them.

The MPCA has issued many more air alerts (bad air days) over the past few years, advising vulnerable populations to stay indoors. However, indoor air comes from the outside, so citizens can only do so much to protect themselves from polluted air by staying indoors. Should we be prisoners in our own homes? Children, who need to pump higher amounts of air through their smaller lungs, are especially vulnerable to long-term exposure to small particles of “soot” from coal burning plants such as the Riverside plant in northeast Minneapolis.

Where can I learn more about the Mississippi River?

Our “News” page has some facts about the Mississippi River. Also check our links page and contact your local library for books on the Mississippi River.

Is it safe to swim in the Mississippi River and eat the fish I catch?

NO! The river water is so polluted in Minneapolis, just a little more than 400 hundred miles from the Headwaters, that it is unsafe to swim in it. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has issued a “fish advisory” for the Mississippi in Minneapolis that cautions against eating fish caught here.

Is it true that the Mississippi River in Minneapolis is a national park?

Yes, thanks to the late Rep. Bruce Vento, the federal government designated a 72-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in the metro area (from Dayton to Hastings) as the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA). While it does not have the status of a national park such as Yellowstone, the MNRRA designation gives it the status of a national treasure and worthy of restoration and protection. The National Park Service MNRRA web site at http://www.nps.gov/miss/ can give you more details.