Residents rally to close the Smith Iron Foundry after EPA documents show high levels of particulate matter around the facility

Pollution protest

A Native American prayer ceremony and a street protest were held Friday night outside the Smith Iron Foundry in Minneapolis.

The issue?

“The quality of the air that people breathe,” declares Erin Gibbons, of Roseville.

Residents and visitors involved in the rally called for the Foundry to be shut down, citing EPA records that show the company had been exceeding Minnesota emission limits of particulate matter since 2018 — without notifying the state.

“You see asthma going up,” says Joe Vital, an East Phillips resident. “You see various cardiovascular diseases in the neighborhood, and it’s all because of this type of emission that’s in the air.”

According to EPA documents obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency ‘conducted air pollutant monitoring’ around the Foundry’s perimeter in October 2022 and April 2023 — both times, finding ‘elevated’ levels of airborne particulate matter.

The EPA followed up in May — when inspectors found cracks and holes in the Foundry’s ductwork.

They also looked at the facility’s air emissions reports from 2018 to 2022.

Those records show particulate matter emissions were more than twice the amount permitted by state regulators.

Steve Sandburg says he’s been complaining about the air quality in the area for years.

“Sets up a holy stink,” he exclaims. “We have a daycare center just down the block. For me, I have headaches.”

Gibbons adds she’s concerned about her boys, 5-year-old Arthur, and Henry, 18 months, who go to that daycare.

“We do worry about the air and they’re outside a lot,” she notes. “It’s a daycare that focuses on outside programming and having kids outside a lot. Very, very close to this place.”

The EPA says it has several enforcement options, including ordering compliance or potential criminal action.

The MPCA says during an inspection this week, ‘all pollution control equipment was operating.’

The agency notes it will be installing two new air quality monitors near the facility and says the company will be testing to measure pollutants coming from the foundry.

The MPCA says it’s also planning a community meeting as soon as possible to share air quality monitoring data and provide an updated timeline for its consideration of the facility’s new air quality permit.

In a statement, Smith Foundry says it’s committed to meeting state and federal standards and is actively working with regulators to correct any issues.  

The company says it’s hired a maintenance manager to spearhead improvements, is providing training on equipment inspection and maintenance, is changing filters, is replacing or repairing ducts and hoses, and is replacing a portion of the roof.

Those at Friday’s rally say they hope the Foundry will be held accountable.

“As far as I’m concerned, if you can’t follow the rules in a safe and sustainable way, then maybe you should not be located in the middle of the metropolitan area,” Nick Gibbons says.