Mint farmers throughout the state are reevaluating their operations after one of their own pleaded guilty to breaking federal environmental laws.
WSBT first learned about the Starke County mint farm in August when a man said he watched his dog boil to death in the nearby creek. Pete Daley says he's been struggling since his dog passed away nearly a year ago. The burns to his own legs have healed, but he hasn't forgotten.
"My daughter got me this at the blueberry festival," says Daley as he pulls a dog tag from his shirt and shows it off, "it says in memory of George."
Daley wears his best friend's name around his neck. George was his dog — a white lab.
"That dog saved my life one night, because I am a diabetic," Daley explains, "he was doing everything he could to wake me up that night. I finally woke up and my blood sugar was 18 or 19. I have never been that low."
But Daley is still haunted by the day he couldn't save George's life.
We first met Daley last August. He told us about the day in August 2010 when he took his dog to Robin's Ditch, a stream that runs near Koontz Lake, to cool off. He didn't know the water in a nearby drainage ditch was scalding hot, until he heard his dog shrieking in pain.
"I thought he was in a snare or a leg hold," says Daley, "when I stepped into the water that is when I found out it was hot. I pulled my foot out but my dog was screaming and going crazy. I finally stepped in as far as I could and tried to pull my dog out but he was so hot I couldn't even stand to touch him. Then when I did finally get a hold of his legs and I pulled him, his hide slid right off his legs."
George died in that creek and Daley suffered serious burns to his own body.
WSBT took a thermometer to the water a few days later. In some areas it was as hot as 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
The hot water was coming from a nearby mint still. The Indiana Department of Emergency Management confirmed it had already been investigating the still after Daley's family contacted them on August 8, 2010.
The owner of that still, Michael Materna, was charged and pleaded guilty to knowingly discharging pollutants and hot water without a permit in violation of the Clean Water Act.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, "As part of the mint oil processing by Materna in the summer of 2010, water that was heated to temperatures of 160 - 190 degrees Fahrenheit and amounts of mint oil were repetitively discharged from the Materna facility into a roadside ditch..."
WSBT attempted to contact Materna several times in August of 2010 but our phone calls and inquiries at his mint still operation were fruitless. Several calls to his attorney Wednesday were not returned.
IDEM says they are still working with other mint farmers to make sure they're in compliance. There are less than two dozen mint farmers in the state — most of them in northwest Indiana.
According to St. Joseph County Mint Farmer Randy Matthys, many mint farmers feel they have been treated unfairly. Many farmers have received federal subpoenas because of IDEM's and the EPA's investigation. Matthys says IDEM came to the area in 1994 and presented information on permits and regulations to farmers but in the past 16 years never followed up. He says farmers felt they were all compliant. He says he and other mint farmers feel IDEM and the EPA have been too hard on Materna. Matthys says farmers who discovered they were not in compliance are all working to get there now. IDEM confirms this.
Materna is scheduled to be sentenced on September 1.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun