Updated: February 21, 2020 10:24 PM
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has ordered a Sherburne County recycling company to shut down two facilities, citing "imminent and substantial danger to the welfare of the people of the state."
The MPCA issued an administrative order Friday to cease operations at Northern Metals Recycling facilities in Becker and north Minneapolis until the fire at its Becker location is extinguished and both locations comply with all of the agency's requirements.
"I mean, it's loud, it's noisy. It kind of smells sometimes. If it's going to be a safety hazard like in Becker, I think it's a good decision then," said Haley Ohama, who lives near the Minneapolis facility.
The Becker facility has been burning since Tuesday, sending flames and plumes of thick black smoke into the sky. Fire crews weren't able to contain the blaze until Thursday, and the MPCA warns that it is "discharging unknown particulate matter and gaseous chemicals into the air that affect Minnesota residents ... as far as 50 miles away."
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According to the administrative order, Northern Metals Recycling is prohibited from accepting scrap metal or operating its shredders at its Becker and Minneapolis locations. It also has to complete an environmental damage assessment of the impacted areas and submit plans for cleaning up the affected area and managing its scrap metal and debris in accordance with fire safety codes.
Colleen O'Connor Toberman is with Friends of the Mississippi, an environmental watchdog group, she says transparency is important.
"They were falsifying reports, they were sharing with MPCA about emissions coming out of here. They're just not trustworthy."
Inspectors issued several fire code violations against the north Minneapolis location on Thursday after a city council member raised concerns about the potential for a fire at that facility, according to emails obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.
Becker Public Schools were closed on Thursday due to concerns about the smoke, and on Friday the school said it had acquired air scrubbers and was keeping students indoors during recess.
Thus far, officials have not found evidence of harmful chemicals in air samples taken in and around the Becker fire, the Becker Police Department stated in a news release Friday afternoon. The latest air samples were taken by MPCA contractors on Friday using equipment that can detect more chemicals than previous tests by state hazardous materials emergency response teams.
Private contractors have been brought in to put out the remaining hot spots, and the fire could be fully extinguished by the end of the weekend, according to the Becker Police Department.
Northern Metal Recycling chief operating officer Scott Helberg on Friday issued the following statement:
"We are grateful for the extraordinary work performed by firefighters and law enforcement over the last several days. As a 10-year resident of Becker with children and grandchildren in the area, I understand and appreciate the concerns I've heard expressed this week.
Northern Metals Recycling strongly objects to today's contentions from the MPCA. The company worked closely with the MPCA to obtain all necessary permitting approvals.
To be clear: the Northern Metals Recycling facility in Becker has never been operational. The shredder has yet to be turned on and its installation is ongoing. Nevertheless, the facility is otherwise in strict compliance with all applicable requirements. We would particularly note that all of the recyclable metal subject to the fire was stored on impervious surfaces and all water from the firefighting efforts was contained on-site as part of our newly constructed storm water containment system. Therefore, there does not appear to be any on or off-site soil and groundwater impacts.
Once it is opened, this state-of-the-art fully enclosed shredding facility will employ 85 Minnesotans and set the benchmark for sustainability and environmental protection for the recycling industry in the state and the nation.
Northern Metals Recycling will continue to be in close contact with state, county, city and federal officials regarding this incident and its cause, which remains under investigation."
Updated: February 21, 2020 10:24 PM
Published: February 21, 2020 03:25 PM
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