Air quality tests begin as Becker recycling plant fire burns for 3rd day

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Firefighters said Thursday they have made major progress on a recycling plant fire in Becker.

The fire has been burning for three days at the Northern Metal Recycling Plant, and on Thursday, firefighters said certain areas of the fire will be allowed to burn out.

Officials believe as many as eight counties could have been affected by the smoke from the fire.

"It was rolling black smoke across the road," said Julie Hollenbeck, with Good Spirits and Smoke in Becker.

Becker Public Schools even canceled classes Thursday because of air quality concerns.

"It can't be good, okay, because I feel the effects, it's not like I'm just breathing in air and going, 'oh, my eyes itch,'" Hollenbeck said.

As fire crews continued to put out hot spots at Northern Metal, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency visited the site to get a first look.

"There's no secret there's something in it that we should be concerned about," said Stephen Mikkelson, with the MPCA.

More from KSTP:

'Major progress' made on combating fire at Becker recycling plant
Becker Public Schools close Thursday due to smoke from nearby fire
Police urge public to limit time breathing air coming from Becker recycling plant fire

Mikkelson said on Thursday, an independent contractor started air quality tests, something the company is required to do.

"As results come in, that's when we'll be getting them to find out what's really been going on," Mikkelson said.

As for what nearby communities are breathing in, Mikkelson says it's likely much different than a wildfire.

"With automobiles, there's plastics and fluids, and potential rubber, not knowing what all is in that pile but those kinds of potential pollutants would be in this smoke," Mikkelson said.

"Oh, it's so much better today, and I'm so happy for that," Hollenbeck said.

The community of Becker is anxious for clear skies but proud of the first responders for putting in the work to put out the flames.

"I hear Subway is sending food over, this place is sending food over, and people are buying socks so it makes me feel good," Hollenbeck said. "I'm really thankful for everyone that helped."

State officials believe the results of the air quality test could come back as early as Friday.

Other air quality tests performed by members of the Minnesota Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Team on Thursday night showed nothing of immediate concern. Handheld testing devices that look for a range of chemicals including sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and Volatile Organic Compounds showed no presence of these compounds.