Recent fire heightens fears of industrial pollution
“It affects all of us. We all feel the same pain,” Roxxanne O’Brien said during a May 18 rally at Northern Metal Recycling. “We’re out here doing this work and we’re not safe.”
O’Brien was among several Community Members for Environmental Justice (CMEJ) calling on City leaders to immediately shut down the recycling company’s operations and end industrial pollution in North Minneapolis.
Northern Metal’s facility, located on the banks of the Mississippi River and near residential areas, is among many polluting the air. Last month, a stack of plastic and insulation caught fire at the facility according to the fire report, but the City ruled the fire as accidental and found that the pile was under the 20-foot legal limit.
About 50 community members attended the rally, including Council Member Jeremiah Ellison of Ward 5, Mike Forcia of the American Indian Movement of the Twin Cities, and Comunidades Organizando el Poder y la Acción Latina (COPAL). They came together outside of Northern Metal in solidarity with the CMEJ to have their demands met.
“This is another form of violence,” Ellison said. Although Northern Metal shut down their shredder at the North Minneapolis facility in 2019, they continue to put up large piles of plastic and insulation. “We’re still seeing the ramifications of this pollution,” Ellison said.
“How many chances does Northern Metal get to do business as usual?” said O’Brien. “Where are all of our public officials and city, state, governmental authorities? Who is doing their jobs to protect the people? It seems like we are constantly fighting for our lives against State violence… We can’t breathe for so many reasons and our Black Lives continue not to matter to our city and state government. Enough is enough.”
The 55411 zip code where the plant is located has the highest rate of asthma hospitalizations in the state, according to The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA). Northern Metal moved its metal shredder from Minneapolis to Becker in 2019 after the State found the company had submitted false pollution reports.
Shortly after, in February 2020 there was a fire at the Becker facility. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) ordered Northern Metal to stop accepting scrap metal at its Minneapolis and Becker facility until it adhered to fire codes; operations have since resumed.
A letter from CMEJ was read aloud to the crowd demanding that the regulating agencies allowing Northern Metal to operate shut them down immediately. The group wants the company to provide a record of their lease to the City of Minneapolis. According to CMEJ, there is no record of Northern Metal’s lease, which makes it difficult to determine whether the company has violated any contractual agreements.
O’Brien said all of the demands have been sent to Attorney General Keith Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, the City of Minneapolis, the MPCA, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the Hennepin County Health Department and the Minnesota Department of Health. The MCEA is currently working with CMEJ to help put an end to air pollution in North Minneapolis.
CMEJ, a coalition of members based in north Minneapolis, is especially committed to addressing environmental injustices that disproportionately affect Minneapolis neighborhoods. The organization welcomes anyone who is interested in fighting environmental racism, including youth. Several young people have taken an active role. “They started to see the work that I was trying to lead and do, and they offered to support me,” O’Brien said.
While the struggle against Northern Metal has become the group’s latest priority, according to O’Brien, they have won a few other battles. O’Brien said that if the metal shredder is not shut down permanently, she anticipates it will continue to have an adverse effect on the North Minneapolis community.
“These are the signs, these are the red flags, and if we ignore them we might have to pay a higher price. I’m not willing to pay that price, so that’s why I keep going.”
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