By Lissa Jones
Proposals are currently under consideration to significantly increase emissions from Minneapolis polluters that have a disproportionate impact on low-income communities of color such as those in Phillips and on the North Side. On April 3, several community organizations sponsored a “Reality Check” on air and water pollution at Kwanzaa Community Church to discuss the potential impact of the proposed increases on the health of these neighborhoods and the people who live there.
The event flyer invited the community to “hear about the status of Northern Metals and HERC (the garbage burner) in North Minneapolis and how their emissions may impact your health.” About 25 people were in attendance, including State Representatives Karen Clark and Joe Mullery, as the panel presented their findings and concerns to the group.
The panelists were Jeff Skrenes of the Hawthorne Community Council; Lea Foushee, environmental justice director with the North American Water Office, a nonprofit organization chartered in 1982 to educate people about solutions to environmental problems; Lara Norkus-Crampton, a nurse, garbage burner activist, and former planning commissioner for the City of Minneapolis; and Beverly Propes, a public health nurse.
Their presentations covered the status of the legal work on Northern Metals; examined the correlation between the pollution emissions and health outcomes for children attending school in the affected neighborhoods; reviewed studies from across the world detailing the health effects of pollution emissions on communities with incinerators; and looking at alternative solutions through the lens of a community organizer.
Panelist Jeff Skrenes spoke in depth about the work to stop the request to expand the burning permit of Northern Metals Recycling, about which the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency generated this issue statement:
“Northern Metals, LLC (Northern Metals) has proposed a major amendment to its current air permit to operate a hammermill metal shredder at its Pacific Street Yard at 2800 Pacific Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota. The proposal is to change certain terms and conditions and does not include new construction. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) staff has prepared an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) and an Air Emission Risk Analysis (AERA) on this proposal. In consideration of the analysis contained in these documents, as well as other facts and analysis available to the MPCA, the staff recommends that the Citizen’s Board (Board) issue a positive declaration on the need for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).”
Beverly Propes educated people about the current health realities facing children in the Phillips neighborhood and in the neighborhoods of North Minneapolis, using her experience in addressing community public health issues like infant mortality, learning disorders, and rates of asthma in elementary schoolchildren.
Propes talked about checking the ozone level every morning and about her being able to correlate high ozone levels with levels of high absenteeism from school for asthma and related symptoms. “Two weeks ago,” said Propes, “the ozone level was over 50, and [school] attendance was down by 35 percent. Over half of the students were students with asthma, and some were out as many as three days. Ozone changes as a result of the particles in the air.”
Lara Norkus-Crampton spoke about the Hennepin County incinerator (HERC) and the pending request by the County to burn 12 percent more garbage per day. The HERC currently burns 1,000 tons of garbage daily.
Norkus-Crampton presented a map that was included in the initial planning documents for the HERC, outlining where experts believed that the majority of the air pollution would fall once the incinerator was in operation. She identified those areas as the Phillips neighborhood and the neighborhoods of North Minneapolis.
“At the Minnesota Department of Health Forum with Rep. Ellison,” Norkus-Crampton said, “we learned that asthma rates in Minneapolis proper are 29 percent higher than in the rest of Minneapolis — and they are burning garbage in St. Louis Park, too. The research shows that this is but one source of dioxins in the air. Did you know that dioxins are from the Agent Orange family of chemicals?”
She lauded the work of Representative Karen Clark for her efforts on behalf of the affected residents and for working for environmental justice in the Minnesota House.
Lea Foushee of the North American Water Office spoke about her history in organizing around environmental issues, recalling with other residents the 1986 campaign “Don’t let them burn it!” She talked about the premise of the work — if the incinerator has nothing to burn because we recycle, compost and reuse, this could be a solution to stopping the pollution.
“Sadly,” noted Norkus-Crampton, “they will just get it from somewhere else.”
Foushee, when explaining about “acceptable levels of risk” (if up to 50 percent of a test organism dies, this is “acceptable” for humans to breathe), said, “If we don’t want sick kids, that calculation can’t be the same anymore. Fifty percent of any test organism is too high! …You can’t put poison in a baby and not have a result.”
Karen Monahan of the Sierra Club was also in attendance Tuesday, telling the group, “The Sierra Club is here as a partner. We are working to see if we can help you get the lawyer we need for next steps.”
Sponsors of the “Reality Check” were Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota (EJAM), Hawthorne Community Council, North American Water Office and Kwanzaa Community Church.
The panel invited more residents and policymakers to get involved. Information about the event and the coalition of partners working with EJAM can be found on the EJAM website at www.ejamn.org.
Lissa Jones welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.