Northeast residents helped decide how to spend $600,000.
On Jan. 7, the Public Health, Environment, Civil Rights, and Engagement Committee met at Minneapolis City Hall to hear and vote on the recommendations of the Northern Metals Advisory Committee on how to allocate $600,000 in settlement funds for air pollution caused by Northern Metals operations at its plants along the river in North Minneapolis.
City Council Members Phillipe Cunningham (Chair), Cam Gordon (Vice-Chair), Andrea Jenkins, Alondra Cano, and Jeremy Schroeder heard the presentation by Gretchen Musicant, Commissioner of Health Minneapolis Health Department, then voted unanimously to accept the committee’s recommendations.
It all began when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency discovered an unpermitted source of air pollution at the Northern Metals facility. MPCA moved to revoke Northern Metals’ operating license, which eventually led to a $2.57 million settlement that included a $1 million civil penalty paid to MPCA, $460,000 monitoring costs to MPCA, $510,000 court and attorney costs to MPCA and $600,000 in health mitigation funds to City of Minneapolis.
As part of this consent decree, Northern Metals agreed to the intervention of the City of Minneapolis and has agreed to provide $200,000 to the City each year for three years to be used solely for mitigation projects in North and Northeast Minneapolis.
The Minneapolis Health department worked with community members from the McKinley and Hawthorne neighborhoods in North Minneapolis and Sheridan and Bottineau neighborhoods in Northeast. An advisory committee to the City Council was formed to provide recommendations for the use of settlement funds dedicated to community asthma and lead reduction. Sheridan was represented by Annie Krapek, Adam Spees and Amber Ortiz; Bottineau did not have regular representation, but the Bottineau Neighborhood Association (BNA) presented a letter from Mariam Slayhi that requested funds for a pollution-related cancer and asthma study to determine how likely people are to die from the pollutants, to study lead levels in the Mississippi river bed, and perform lead testing on children under the age of 13 in the affected neighborhoods. The committee met eight times to determine how the money should be distributed.
At its last meeting in December, the committee recommended the following expenditures. The committee designated 67 percent of the settlement money be spent on asthma because there are fewer resources available than for other concerns.
Asthma Outreach/Education: $92,000 for 80 group education events, including outreach to parents, a nurse, respiratory therapist or certified asthma educator at each event. Participants would be recruited through schools, clinics, emergency rooms, hospitals and urgent care centers. Qualified families would receive a $150 gift card for attending.
Asthma Mitigation: $308,400 for one-on-one home consultations to evaluate the need for asthma allergen mitigation products. Families could receive, depending on their needs, products such as an allergen vacuum, HEPA air cleaner, mold removal, integrated pest management, an inhaler, a grocery card or other products and services.
Lead Poisoning Prevention Education: $75,000 for non-profit organizations such as Sustainable Resources Center or the Neighborhood HUB to visit homes and educate parents about lead poisoning. Families would receive a $50 gift card for allowing the visit.
Blood Lead Testing: $124,600 for testing up to 400 children for lead poisoning at 30 events in the neighborhoods, most likely a visit by the mobile Leadie Eddie van. Qualified children would receive a $100 gift card if they are under six years old, live within the geographical boundaries of the of the event and are due to have a lead test.
In addition to the settlement money, the city’s Health Department will provide $184,200 in in-kind services as well as ongoing asthma and lead efforts and evaluation of use of the settlement funding.
Nancy Przymus of the BNA said the settlement funds are treating the symptom, but not the cause of the health problems in neighborhoods near the Lowry Avenue Bridge. “It’s like firefighters helping the victims, but letting the house burn,” she said. “Bottineau wants Northern Metals held accountable for the harm it’s done to people on both sides of the river. There are thousands of kids and adults with asthma [living] along the bridge. Why isn’t the Minneapolis Health Department doing more about getting this fixed? BNA is not giving up.”
Lisa Smestad of the Minneapolis Health Department said lead and asthma education efforts will begin immediately, as will asthma mitigation. Call her at 612-673-3733 to connect with the appropriate person. Blood lead screenings will be scheduled for the summer.
Editor’s note: Northern Metals is building a new plant in Becker, Minn., 50 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Completion is due in August of this year.