Ever since a consent decree was handed down in 2017, the Northern Metals Advisory Council (NMAC) has wrestled with how to spend the $600,000 settlement. They’re not quite there yet.
The March 3, 2017 settlement called for the metal recycling company on the west side of the Mississippi River to pay $2.5 million in costs and penalties, including a $1 million civil penalty; payment for three years of continued air monitoring near the facility; reimbursement to the state for past monitoring costs, court costs and legal fees; and $600,000 to the city of Minneapolis for community heath projects to benefit nearby communities. It was also required to move its metal-shredding plant elsewhere; it is building a new plant in Becker, Minn.
The advisory group has members from neighborhoods nearest the plant: Hawthorne and McKinley on the North side, and Sheridan in Northeast. The Bottineau neighborhood does not have a representative on the council, but Nancy Pryzymus of the Bottineau Neighborhood Association (BNA) was on hand for the Nov. 19 meeting at East Side Neighborhood Services.
The NMAC’s objective is to provide recommendations for use of the $600,000 to benefit the affected neighborhoods. Their goals are to:
• Identify residents in those neighborhoods who are at risk for asthma triggers
• Enroll families with children in an asthma trigger mitigation program
• Implement community and block-by-block blood screening for high levels of lead
• Identify individuals and connect them to resources to reduce environmental lead.
It’s no small task, and $600,000 seems barely adequate to even begin these programs. Yet, NMAC members are adamant that the money should go to those who need it most, the families who have been dealing with asthma and asthma-related health problems but don’t have the means to adequately reduce the number and severity of asthma attacks.
According to a March 3, 2017 press release, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) began monitoring air quality near the facility, at 2800 N. Pacific St., in the fall of 2014. The monitor found particulate matter above state standards. MPCA added a second monitor to “bookend” the facility. Data from these monitors suggested emissions from Northern Metals were contributing to violations of the standard.
Analysis of a year’s worth of data in the spring of 2016 showed air around the facility also had elevated levels of lead, chromium, cobalt and nickel. This finding, along with MPCA’s discovery that Northern Metals was operating an unpermitted source of particulates, prompted the agency to ask the court to shut down the facility. The unpermitted source allowed MPCA to revoke the facility’s operating permit.
The neighborhoods around both sides of the Lowry Avenue Bridge have some of the highest concentrations of lead poisoning and the highest asthma hospitalization rates in Minnesota.
At their recent meeting, NMAC members were asked how they would allocate money for their four objectives. They read proposals from the BNA and from Dr. Gail Brottman, a pediatric pulmonologist who had been working with the group.
BNA had proposed a $38,000 study to determine who how often people in the area get sick and who has gotten sick over the last 20 years. It also proposed that the Mississippi River bed near Northern Metals be tested for pollutants to see if they match those found on land around the recycling plant. Tests by the NE RiverKeepers showed that industrial magnets lowered into the river retrieved large metal shards, oil-caked metal pieces and other pollutants. The cost for that study would be $113,000. BNA also suggested a $400,000 blood testing and outreach program to determine which children in the pollution zone have elevated lead levels in or compromised oxygen levels in their blood and to compensate them for the damage.
Although NMAC members liked Bottineau’s proposal, they suggested that there were other sources for lead abatement programs. One noted that a small piece of the Upper Harbor Terminal development was designated for a 2.5-acre citizen science center that could possibly be used for teaching about lead contamination.
Dr. Brottman’s proposal suggested a $450,000, two-prong approach targeted at asthma sufferers. One involved an in-home evaluation and education on asthma triggers by a public health nurse. The second would enroll families with children who have poorly controlled asthma in a mitigation program that would allow them to purchase equipment such as HEPA air cleaners, allergen-rated vacuum cleaners, allergen bedding, nebulizers, and other equipment. One committee member noted that some of this equipment was available through the city of Minneapolis, but a representative from the Minneapolis Health Department said the city had resources to help only 10 or 20 families per year.
Asked to decide how much of the $600,000 settlement they wanted to allocate to each of their four targets, most council members said they favored an 80/20 split, with the larger portion of the money going toward asthma education and mitigation. However, time ran out before they could determine specific amounts for each of the four areas of concern. They pushed the final decision off until December.