On Saturday afternoon, December 9, around 50 activists gathered outside the Smith Foundry in Minneapolis’s Phillips neighborhood. The group called for the closing of the foundry, citing pollution concerns and the Environmental Control Agency’s (EPA) findings that the Smith Foundry violated the Federal Clean Air Act.
The Climate Justice Committee organized the protest, and representatives from multiple local organizations, including labor, healthcare, environmental, and immigrants’ rights groups, showed up to show support.
The Smith Foundry, which has been operating since 1923, sits across the street from the Roof Depot, where activists had a victory earlier this year when they convinced the City of Minneapolis to sell the site to the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute to develop an urban farm. The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute is also part of the coalition fighting to have the Smith Foundry shut down.
The Phillips neighborhood surrounding the foundry is racially diverse and is home to many immigrant communities, as well as the Little Earth housing project, a majority Native American community. Montana Hirsch of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Commission said the continued operation of the Smith Foundry in the neighborhood was “environmental racism.”
“Many immigrants end up in this country due to forced migrations caused by [United States-backed] imperialist wars, and it’s shameful that once in the U.S., many immigrants must live in neighborhoods that don’t have clean air and clean water,” Hirsch said.
Nicole Mason, an organizer with the American Indian Movement, lives in the area and worries about her and her family’s health. She called a long-lasting cough she’s had a “Smith Foundry Cough.”
“[Smith Foundry] is putting all of our families in East Phillips and at Little Earth in high danger with their health,” Mason said. “And it’s really scary not to know what the pollution is doing to my family and not to have any control over it for myself.”
Doug Gurian-Sherman is a Phillips resident who used to work as a risk assessor for the EPA. Gurian-Sherman was skeptical that any regulatory agencies would step in on their own, saying he believed administrators at regulatory agencies were too friendly with manufacturing industries.
“It’s not that science isn’t relevant. I think that’s important to understand,” Gurian-Sherman said. “The science is being abused, and it’s being abused at the expense of neighborhoods like East Phillips and Corcoran and all these surrounding neighborhoods.”
Peter Molenaar worked at Smith Foundry for 30 years and agrees that the current facility should be shut down due to its location. He said he knows the health consequences of the facility firsthand.
“I’ve had mixed emotions because this place was a source of life. Also, it’s a source of death,” Molenaar said.
Molenaar said he and other former foundry workers suffered from silicosis, where particulate matter from quartz crystals accumulates in the lungs. He says three former coworkers have passed away from cancer, which he believes was likely caused by working in the foundry.
Toya Lopez, a member of Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, says workers are not the only ones impacted by pollution, but the whole neighborhood. Lopez called shutting the foundry down “preventative medicine” due to the positive health effects less pollution would have on the neighborhood.
“We get to see the actual devastation that has been brought on by the Smith Foundry, not just currently but for generations. And every year when more exposure to this air pollution stacks on our old wounds, where do we end up then? We end up a statistic,” Lopez said.
At press time, the Smith Foundry had not responded to requests for comment.