Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

Minneapolis: Community confronts government regulators about foundry polluting the air

By Jasper Becker

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, MPCA, confronted at a Minneapolis community meeting on Smith Foundry.  | Fight Back! News/staff

Minneapolis, MN – On the evening of February 7, residents of East Phillips confronted the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) at a community meeting and then held a press conference regarding the Smith Foundry.

East Phillips is a primarily oppressed nationality neighborhood and home to the Little Earth indigenous community. East Phillips has the highest rates of asthma in all of Minnesota, with many residents suffering from COPD among other respiratory health issues.

The double-dealing of the MPCA was on clear display by trying to break the community meeting up into smaller, fragmented groups at “answer” tables. The East Phillips community and their supporters refused to cooperate, ignoring the “answer” tables and demanding that the MPCA address the community as a whole.

This was a follow-up meeting after the federal Environmental Protection Agency found, in a surprise inspection, that Smith Foundry was polluting the neighborhood and it required an outside agency to come to test the facility again.

The Smith Foundry has been releasing lead and other pollutants into the air on a permit they received in 1992. This permit does not monitor for lead. On Tuesday this week, the MPCA went out of their way to announce via Twitter that they found “The Smith Foundry is meeting their permit requirements. The facility emits low levels of lead.” The MPCA proudly shared this information, despite the fact there is no safe level of lead.

At the meeting on Wednesday night, residents pointed out that Smith has been poisoning the neighborhood for 120 years, while MPCA denies this and claims the foundry is in compliance with its permits. Brian Dickens, an Environmental Protection Agency employee named on Wednesday night, said that last year the Smith Foundry was in complete violation of their permits, but he states that “things have improved a lot.” 20-year Phillips resident Steff Yorek responded, “How can we trust you to maintain that they’re in compliance with the permit after you’ve allowed them to poison our air for decades?”

The MPCA is aware that this residential neighborhood is flooded with polluters and did not express any interest in changing that. As stated by MPCA representative Frank Kohlasch, “Bituminous Roadways is next door to Smith Foundry. Considering all sources of pollution around Smith Foundry is critical to the process for meeting permit requirements, we have to consider all the polluters. What are all of the other sources of air pollution that can be quantified?” Kohlasch did not respond when a neighbor pointed out that this is a residential neighborhood, not an industrial wasteland. The attendees of the neighborhood made their point clear: Smith Foundry does not belong in a residential neighborhood.

At the press conference called by the Climate Justice Committee, the MPCA was exposed for protecting the polluters like Smith Foundry, and not the community of East Phillips. A question-and-answer chant showed the community’s understanding of the role of the MPCA. The question to the community was, “Who keeps us safe?” The answer by the community was, “We keep us safe!” and “What do we want? Shut it down!”

#MinneapolisMN #Environment #EnvironmentalJustice #OppressedNationalities #IndigenousPeoples #EPA #SmithFoundry #CJC #EastPhillips #EnvironmentalRacism