Asthma By A Dozen Smokestacks

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Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota and community members prepared this video testimony of their concerns with Northern Metals.

You’d think a business that recycles would be a-ok in Sierra Club’s book, so why then do we want additional environmental review of Northern Metal Recycling, a vehicle shredder that recycles metals located in North Minneapolis along the Mississippi River? It’s because of where it’s located and its contribution to the disproportionate burden of air pollution the North and Northeast Minneapolis communities already face.

On one hand, we acknowledge the material recovery Northern Metal Recycling performs is important because it reduces both the need to extract additional, finite natural resources and the volume of hazardous and non-hazardous waste sent to landfills. We even commend them for having more pollution controls than other vehicle shredders. However, Sierra Club’s goal is to manage existing wastes in the safest way possible and to prevent disproportionate negative environmental and health impacts on communities. We don’t think Northern Metals or the MPCA has fully evaluated whether or not the proposal to start shredding full vehicles instead of auto parts and the corresponding increased pollution is the best thing for a community that has some of the highest asthma rates in the metro.


North Minneapolis is located in the upper maroon box (highest asthma rates). The lower maroon box is South Minneapolis, another environmental justice community.

Next week, the MPCA Citizens Board will determine whether or not an environmental impact statement should be completed for Northern Metal Recycling’s proposal. At issue, is whether or not there is the potential for significant environmental impact. What counts as “significant” can mean different things. MPCA staff thought it would be significant if it didn’t meat clean air standards, but thanks to work by the community and MPCA the Northern Metals’ proposal has cut soot (particulate matter) pollution limits in half to comply with EPA clean air standards. The community and Sierra Club continue to argue that the increased pollution limits (to allow Northern Metals to shred whole vehicles instead of parts) are significant because of the cumulative effects this community faces. This is especially true as the City of Minneapolis and Minneapolis Park Board continue to invest in plans to redevelop the Mississippi River shoreline in this community to be a place for people to bike, play, and grow community gardens which is why the City Council and Park Board have opposed increasing the pollution limits for Northern Metals.

The reality is this community has higher than average rates of asthma and cancer and more industrial smokestacks spewing air pollution that contributes to those illnesses into the air. It’s like that old adage: death by a thousand cuts. When you’re a business in a heavy industrial zone near a community you’ve got to do right by the people who live there. MPCA is starting to realize the problems the community has known about for years, and announced this week that they have begun conversations with area industries to update their pollution data and begin discussing how to reduce the pollution in the community. That’s a start, but environmental review of Northern Metals would tell the company and the community what’s the best alternative to recycle vehicles and protect human health – a win-win.

Join us on Monday, October 1st at 9am at the MPCA Citizens Board to find out if the Citizens Board will hear the pleas of North and Northeast Minneapolis residents to ensure clean air for their community by requiring additional environmental review to find the best solution. Contact Karen Monahan, Sierra Club’s Minnesota Environmental Justice Program Organizer, for more information. You can also read the 300+ page board packet the Citizens Board members received to consider the issue here.


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