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Northern Metals Permanently Shuts Down Minneapolis Shredder After MPCA Settlement

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A scrap metal company in north Minneapolis has agreed to shut down its metal shredder as part of a settlement with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

That's according to the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy on behalf of the Community Members for Environmental Justice. The group, which was a party in the lawsuit against Northern Metals, objected to the settlement because it allows Northern Metals to avoid a public hearing.

Northern Metals admitted that it submitted improperly altered records on the performance of its filtration equipment. Under the settlement, Northern Metals will stop shredder operations at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23. The shutdown is permanent, but Northern Metals will continue to manage metal it collects at the site until further action is taken.

Many in the community were concerned about the pollution caused by the company. Northside resident Roxxaine O'Brien led the charge to improve the air quality in her neighborhood.

"We are thankful for each other that we came together and put pressure on the state and put pressure on the government to do their regular jobs," O'Brien said. "They are shredding mercury, chromium and all types of carcinogens."

The MPCA's monitoring of the air quality near the north Minneapolis facility revealed it exceeded state standards in the past, but it was a whistleblower's account that led to the shutdown of the company's shredding operation. Last month, a man came forward with accusations against the company. He said he was told not to write down pollution control equipment readings above a certain level, and he alerted the MPCA. Documents show an inspector looked at the records and found alterations.

MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop says the company is being held accountable for reporting inaccurate emission records.

"Northern Metals has admitted to altering their log books, the admission data that they put into those log books. They agreed to shut down operations today," Bishop said.

The MPCA settled with the shredding company on another issue in 2017, ending in a $2.5 million fine. And the recycling company was supposed to close its north Minneapolis facility by Aug. 1 and move to a new location. The court allowed Northern Metals to continue operating until the parties resolved the disagreement.

There are some who believe Northern Metals is getting off easy.

"We wish that there was a public hearing so the public could know the extent of which records were altered and other things that were done to conceal the amount of pollution that was coming from this site," said Aaron Klemz with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

O'Brien says her group would also like to publically thank the whistleblower who told the truth about the company's lack of accurate emissions reporting, as well as compensation for employees losing their jobs.

"Next is criminally prosecuting Northern Metals, proceeding with that and doing whatever we can to assist that," O'Brien said.

Northern Metals is also required to pay a $200,000 civil penalty by Oct. 1. A copy of the settlement is available on the MPCA's website.

"Northern Metals is pleased to cooperatively resolve this matter with the MPCA. Northern Metals is committed to innovation and excellence. We look forward to starting operations at our state-of-the-art Becker facility, which we believe will be set the benchmark for sustainability and environmental protection for the recycling industry in Minnesota and the nation," said Scott Helberg, chief operating officer of Northern Metals.

The MPCA will now be able to reopen the company's permit for the new Becker facility to incorporate additional monitors and reports for its pollution control equipment.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey released this statement Monday afternoon about the settlement and closure:

Northern Metals has broken our laws and breached their agreement with the state, all while brazenly betraying the public's trust. Today's decision to immediately shutdown the shredder is welcome news for a community that for years has borne the brunt of their bad action.

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