Trying to Breathe in 55411: Next Steps with Northern Metals

On June 8th, NOC held our second environmental justice community meeting on the issues of air quality, public health, and Northern Metals -- the metals recycler that has violated its air quality permit and is harming the air quality and lives of North Minneapolis residents. 75 community members, NOC staff, and state and city officials banded together at this meeting to discuss the impacts of poor air quality perpetrated by Northern Metals.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) officials Sarah Kilgriff, Manager of Land and Air Compliance Section, and Ned Brooks, Environmental Justice Coordinator began the meeting with a presentation of the levels of heavy metals like cobalt, nickel and chromium they’ve been measuring around Northern Metals, how the MPCA has approached Northern Metals regarding their permit, and the steps leading up to the legal decision to revoke the permit of Northern Metals. Many questions were asked by community members to the MPCA that were also filled with raw emotion for we know this isn’t just about one bad acting facility, poor air quality in North Minneapolis has been a problem for decades and this community has been fighting for space to be heard for even longer.


Secondly, we were joined by City Council Member Cam Gordon, and City of Minneapolis Director of Health Daniel Huff that gave a presentation on the environmental health data known in North Minneapolis. Statistics of the the zip code of 55411 have the highest levels of lead in the blood, and highest rates of asthma hospitalizations in the state. These statistics do not happen by accident. The cumulative impacts of facilities like Northern Metals, the HERC incinerator, and lack of access to healthcare due to economic disparities will result in these rates. It is appalling to know not only do black and brown communities face worse disparities in employment, education and criminal justice; but we also face the worst disparities in environmental health. These problems are so interconnected with one another that we can no longer afford the attempt to solve them in silos.

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The community’s concerns for environmental and human health were felt at this meeting, and valiantly argued for the next morning on June 9th in the courtroom at the Ramsey County Courthouse when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency presented the case to temporarily cease the operations of Northern Metals. Along with seeking the permit revocation, the MPCA had filed for an injunction in Ramsey County due to the lack of attention Northern Metals has given to their own violations of their permit. The ruling was not for or against the MPCA, but has postponed the decision for 90 days. Within this time, Northern Metals can attempt to correct the reason that the metal dust produced by shredding scrap metal is escaping by creating a total enclosure of the shredder. At this point it’s not enough, the damage has been done and what is needed is a complete transformation of what metals recycling is and the industry that exists in North Minneapolis.


We strongly support Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s effort to revoke the air permit for Northern Metals. However, we also advise the MPCA to push for remediation efforts to the Northern Metals Recycler in North Minneapolis. We support a new permit investing in infrastructure that pushes for cleaner air and cleaner practices befitting a true recycling company. This will provide equitable and green jobs to the communities that reside near the site. We should not move the site to another community that will be forced to endure the same bad practices that Northern Metals currently use that are toxic to our communities. If you would like to send public comments, click here and send comments by June 20th. 

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