High lead levels found in North Minneapolis - regulator

© Eric Miller
High levels of airborne lead particles and other heavy metals have been detected in North Minneapolis, Minnesota, by state environmental regulators. Health officials said the pollution may have long-term impacts for nearby residents and workers.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) reported"violations of the state standard for particles" in an industrial section of North Minneapolis. Air monitors installed near the Northern Metals recycling plant along the Mississippi River in 2013 and 2014 now show that heavy metal presence in the area is cause for concern, the agency said.

"The two air monitors, on the west bank of the river near the Lowry Avenue Bridge, recorded lead at higher levels than at other Minnesota locations," MPCA announced on Thursday. "In addition, while other metals don't have state or federal standards, chromium, cobalt and nickel were measured at levels above health-based guidelines used by state and federal agencies to set protective levels for air emissions."

It was only recently that the agency air monitors gathered enough data to accurately judge air quality near the recycling plant, which is suspected by officials to be a top contributor to the pollution levels, MPCA Assistant Commissioner David Thornton said.

"What we found is that the lead levels are below the federal ambient air quality standard," said Thornton, according to Minnesota Public Radio. "But they're higher than they are at any other site we have in the state and that's of concern."

The Minnesota Department of Health said that the MPCA data is worrying, and that long-term health risks are at play.

“While the results in this report do not indicate a short-term health risk, we are concerned about the overall impact on air quality in this area and the potential for harm over the long term, particularly for those who work in the immediate area," said James Kelly, manager of the Minnesota health department's environmental health division.

Calling the pollution "an environmental justice issue," Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges pointed out that the area in question is "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," she said in a statement. "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."

Kelly pointed out that the area near the recycling plant, located in an industrial section of Minneapolis, has a "higher rate of children with elevated blood lead levels."

“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," he added.

Northern Metals is currently under court order to test whether its North Minneapolis facility is in compliance with MPCA air-quality standards. The company previously sued to stop air monitoring by the MPCA, the agency said, adding that its current permit status could be in limbo over potential inaccurate data reporting.

Northern Metals has yet to comment on the MPCA report.