Taconite companies in northeastern Minnesota are launching into an effort to find ways to reduce their mercury emissions.
The hope is to cut the taconite plants' roughly 800 pounds of mercury emissions by 75 percent. The mercury comes from the ore itself; it's released when the ore is heated.
Craig Pagel, from the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota, said there are lots of complications, from the two kinds of furnaces, and different concentrations of mercury in different ores.
"If you're on the eastern side of the iron range, there's very very low mercury. If you go more towards the west, that's when those levels come up."
The DNR received a $1.6 million grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The state and taconite companies are kicking in nearly a half-million dollars.
Still, Pagel says that's barely enough to get started. He points out electric utilities are spending much more to reduce mercury from coal-fired power plants -- and the utilities can add the expense to monthly bills.
"We can't pass on those added costs like a power company does. We have to somehow compete with a global market while still putting in emission reduction equipment, which costs money not only to put in but to run," he said.