MPCA monitors detect troubling levels of lead in N. Mpls industrial area

MPCA air monitors have detected levels of lead and other metals that exceed health guidelines.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency air monitors near the Lowry Avenue bridge in an industrial area of North Minneapolis have recorded lead levels that are concerning to state officials.

The two air monitors are on the west bank of the river near the Northern Metal Recycling scrap yard.

The air monitors also detected levels of other metals, including chromium, cobalt and nickel, above health-based guidelines used by state and federal officials.

MPCA Assistant Commissioner David Thornton said the agency has long had concerns about air pollution in the area.

“We’ve been concerned about the levels of particles and metals, but until recently we didn’t have enough data to compare them against health benchmarks for air quality,” he said.

State environmental health manager James Kelly said the findings don’t “indicate a short-term health risk,” but officials are concerned about the “the potential for harm over the long term, particularly for those who work in the immediate area.”

Potential health impacts related to poor air quality include lung damage and cancer, among other things. Lead exposure can cause cardiovascular problems in adults and development problems in children.

“The residential neighborhood near this industrial area is known to have a higher rate of children with elevated blood lead levels,” Kelly noted. “The older housing stock in this area, which often has lead paint, is the major source of exposure to lead, however any additional sources of lead exposure should be taken seriously.”

Thornton said the MPCA is trying to identify the exact source of the pollution. While Northern Metal Recycling is between the two monitors, there are other potential sources of pollution in the area, too.

He said the agency has tried to work with industrial companies in the area to address the concerns.

“It clearly hasn’t been enough. We think there’s more they can do, including signing agreements with us,” he said.

Northern Metals has filed lawsuits to try to stop MPCA’s air monitoring, but remains under court order to conduct testing to determine if they are complying with their MPCA-issued air emissions permit.

“These are potentially serious permit violations,” Thornton said. “We’ll be looking at all of our options including permit revocation.”

Mayor Betsy Hodges issued a statement Thursday expressing anger over the findings.

“I am outraged to learn of this air quality violation in North Minneapolis,” Hodges said. “Make no mistake. This is an environmental justice issue impacting one of the most overburdened neighborhoods in our community. For too long, the health of our residents, including our children, has been determined by their ZIP code. I urge the MPCA to act swiftly to confirm the source of the lead particulate emissions and take the strongest possible action, up to and including revoking permits and shutting down operations completely.”

City officials have also requested a number of actions from the MPCA to hold North Metal Recycling accountable.

“If you live near this industrial area, or any other Minneapolis neighborhood with older homes that may contain lead paint, please get your children tested,” Hodges said. “I invested in more lead testing in our homes in this year’s budget because I know that a lead-safe environment is critical to protecting our children’s futures.”

>> For more information about lead testing, residents are urged to call 311 or click here.