Minnesota shuts down recycling plant, site of massive fire

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The state of Minnesota on Friday shut down a metal recycling company where a fire burned for days and sent up plumes of smoke.

The state cited “imminent and substantial danger” to the public, the Star Tribune reported. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued an administrative order prohibiting Northern MetalRecyclingfrom accepting any scrap metal at its plant in Becker, site of the fire. The order also prohibits the company from accepting scrap metal at its previous facility in north Minneapolis, where it still has many junked cars stored.

On Friday, Gov. Tim Walz said he is considering placing a30-dayhold on Northern Metal’s recycling permit. Speaking at a forum organized by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Walz said he is looking at ways to hold Northern Metal responsible for pollution caused by this week’s fire at its plant in Becker, in central Minnesota.

Walz told the audience that he does not trust Northern Metal “to do the right thing,” KMSP-TV reported. The Democratic governor said state regulators would make the decision on a 30-day hold.

On Feb. 11, a week before the Becker fire erupted, fire inspectors cited Northern Metal’s former facility in north Minneapolis for a variety of code violations related to its outdoor storage practices, the Star Tribune reported, citing inspection records.

The Becker Police Department reported in a Facebook post that initial air tests have found no hazardous chemicals. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency took additional air samples Thursday; results released Friday found nothing unusual in the types and levels of volatile organic compounds that are released in gases.Air sampling also did not detect metals, the agency said.Additional monitors set up Friday for particulate matter found nothing that raised concern, with levels similar to those in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

In a statement, Northern Metal chief operating officer Scott Helberg said the company “strongly objects to today’s contentions from the MPCA. The company worked closely with the MPCA to obtain all necessary permitting approvals.”

Helberg also pointed out that the facility in Becker has never been operational. “Nevertheless, the facility is otherwise in strict compliance with all applicable requirements,” Helberg said, adding that all the recyclable metal was stored on impervious surfaces and all water from firefighting was contained on-site as part of the plant’s newly constructed storm water containment system.

Republican state Sen. Andrew Mathews of Milaca, whose district includes Becker, said in a statement Friday that Northern Metal “is fully cooperating” with the state fire investigation, the MPCA and local public health officials.

“To suggest an arbitrary 30-day hold on permitting from the state is irresponsible and an overreaction,” Mathews said.

A state fire marshal investigator was at the scene Friday. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Police said Thursday that firefighters had the blaze under control, but the fire flared late Thursday, sending more smoke over Becker. Classes in Becker were canceled Thursday but resumed Friday.

On Friday, police said firefighting efforts have been turned over to a private company hired by Northern Metal. The fire has been reduced to a few smoldering areas and could be extinguished by the end of the weekend, police said.

Residents of the city of 4,500 people have not been asked to evacuate, but should stay away from the immediate area of the fire, police have said. Becker is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Minneapolis.

Northern Metal moved its shredding operation from Minneapolis to Becker last year after the Pollution Control Agency ordered it shut down because of high levels of air pollution and inaccurately recorded pollution.

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This story has been corrected to correct name of company to Northern Metal instead of Northern Metals andto correct ‘30-year hold’ to ’30-day hold.”.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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