Citizens group submits demands to Becker city council after Northern Metals fire

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In February, a group of citizens formed an alliance following the Northern Metals recycling plant fire in Becker. The group is raising concerns about safety and questioning city leaders.

“Immediately when I just stepped into my garage, which is attached to my home, you could smell it, you could smell it and it was awful, it caught in the back of your throat," said Abby Malzahn.

Malzahn stated she does not want to relive the fire at Northern Metal Recycling again, but she does have questions on what's happening now. 

“We had a lot of concerns about the air quality, obviously, but our biggest concern was the duration of the fire," she said.

Since the fire, a group formed comprised of citizens from Becker, Big Lake and Monticello. They call themselves The Great River Area Impact Alliance. 

GRAI Alliance member, Elizabeth Lee, told the Becker City Council the group wanted better oversight of Northern Metals' operations and a town hall meeting to address the public's concerns about environmental issues and fire fighting preparedness.

"We need to know that we are going to be safe and what the possible health effects could be," said Lee. "And, our volunteer firefighters must have adequate equipment and training to fight fires like the one that just happened."

“What we found in the last 12 months alone is there were 50 scrap metal yard fires just reported in the news and that frequency is really scary to us and we want to know did the city ever analyze or calculate that risk prior to bringing northern metals to town," Malzahn said.

The group also has concerns for their local volunteer fire department who have to battle the fire. 

“Did they have the proper training, did they have the right equipment to handle this, after the fire did they have an extractor to clean their equipment, I am hearing that some of these firefighters were on scene for 17 hours,” Malzahn said. 

"Our volunteer firefighters did not even know, exactly, what they were getting into when they had to fight that fire," said Lee.  "Gardeners and farmers still do not know what the polluted ash means for the food they're growing, too."

More from KSTP: 

Northern Metals Recycling plants ordered to shut down, citing 'imminent and substantial danger'
'Major progress' made on combating fire at Becker recycling plant
Fire at Becker recycling plant could last 'several more days,' authorities say

The group's concerns stem from safety, and that is exactly what they want to discuss with the city leaders. 

“What type of planning they have for future events, and if they are preparing for anything in the future and how they're gonna protect their citizens,” Malzahn questions.

City Council members did not respond to the group's demands and did not set any date for a possible town hall meeting and did not answer any questions about possible health-related issues.

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As part of the transition from the first responders working on the recycling plant fire last month to a private company, Northern Metals provided the private company with a fire truck in case it was needed, the company stated. 

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has learned the tanker was purchased from Santiago Township fire department, near Becker. Northern Metals said the fire truck is still on site. 

Northern Metals added that they had provided air quality test results directly to the MPCA as the company was advised to do. They had also spoken with an environmental consulting firm to prepare a work plan to address MPCA concerns. 

Northern Metals, through a company spokesperson, issued this statement:  

"Northern Metal Recycling worked closely with the MPCA to obtain all necessary permitting approvals for the Becker facility. Once opened, this state-of-the-art operation will employ 85 Minnesotans and set the benchmark for sustainability and environmental protection for the recycling industry in the state and the nation."