Northern Metal Case Study: MPCA flopped its response to repeat air quality violations in North Minneapolis

Second part of a three-part series

Part I: The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) permitted a giant metal shredder and recycling operation in North Minneapolis in a neighborhood where residents already faced high asthma rates. Northern Metal Recycling began operating in 2009. Initial smokestack tests showed it was violating air quality standards for particle pollution. The MPCA’s solution was to update the permit in 2012 allowing Northern Metal to emit more pollution. When the MPCA installed air quality monitors in the community in 2013-2014, they started recording more air quality violations.

Part II: North Minneapolis’ air quality problems continued. Northern Metal disputed it was the source of the problem. In 2015 an independent consultant conducted air quality tests, expanding the analysis to include other pollutants. It showed air pollution problems were worse than previously understood. Community members demanded state action. Still, Northern Metal was able to forestall enforcement action. It did pay a fine, thought it’s unclear whether the company saved money by polluting and paying fine rather than paying to fix the problem.

Continue reading

Northern Metal Recycling: Another in the MPCA’s history of ignoring environmental concerns from communities of color

First part of a three-part series.

For a decade, 2009-2019, North Minneapolis’ Hawthorne neighborhood was home to Northern Metal Recycling, a metal shredding operation which added air pollution to an area already beset by polluting industries.

More than 75 percent of Hawthorne residents are Black, Indigenous or other people of color. The neighborhood’s median household income in 2017 was under $30,000. Its zip code had the highest hospitalization rate for asthma of any in the state, the Star Tribune reported that year.

Northern Metal is a case study in the flaws in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA’s) regulatory approach. When the agency approved Northern Metal’s permit, it didn’t adequately consider the cumulative impacts on North Minneapolis nor react in a timely manner when air quality violations occurred.

Continue reading