Too Much Metal and Lead in Air Near North Mpls Neighborhoods

October 23, 2018 03:34 PM

Environmental regulators say poor air quality in north Minneapolis is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed within weeks.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announced this week that air quality tests show there is too much lead and metal in the air at an industrial park located south of Lowry Avenue and west of the Mississippi River.

“The lead concentrations are higher than any other site we have in the state,” said MPCA Assistant Commissioner David Thornton.

The MPCA started monitoring the site in 2014. Neighbors have complained about the air quality coming from the industrial park for years.

“It's very noticeable on a regular basis,” said Anna Bierbrauer who lives in the Bottineau neighborhood on the east of the river. She keeps her four-year old daughter and two-year old son indoors on really bad days.

"If I can feel it, and I can smell it, I don't let them play outside,” Bierbrauer said.

The Minnesota Department of Health says the air quality does not pose immediate or short-term health risks but could cause long term effects like respiratory irritation, lung damage and cancer.

Ticea Fletcher does not let her kids play in nearby Farview Park, which is located west of the industrial area. Her son and daughter were both poisoned by lead based paint in a housing unit at an early age. Her son, Dustin, is developmentally disabled.

 Fletcher now runs Minneapolis Parents for Lead Free Kids and has lobbied for better air quality in north Minneapolis.

“A lot of people just, they don't know,” Fletcher said. “They smell something but they don't what it is.”

MPCA has not pinpointed the exact source of the pollution but believes one company in particular, Northern Metals Recycling, is contributing to the poor air quality.

Thornton, the assistant commissioner, said the company may have changed operations, added new emission sources, or submitted inaccurate information to the state.

“These are potentially serious permit violations,” Thornton said, adding that it may revoke the company’s permit.

The company tried to stop the MPCA from monitoring the air quality in 2015 by filing a lawsuit and asking for a temporary restraining order. A Hennepin County judge ruled against the company and ordered it to cooperate with state regulators.

Nobody from the company would comment about the MPCA findings.

The City of Minneapolis urged the MPCA to deny a permit for Northern Metals to expand its operation in 2012.

Mayor Betsy Hodges expressed outrage about the MPCA findings, saying in a statement, “Make no mistake. This is an environmental justice issue impacting one of the most overburdened neighborhoods in our community.”


Joe Augustine

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