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Minneapolis residents rally to shut down major polluter Smith Foundry

By Charlie Berg

Minneapolis, MN – Residents of Minneapolis’ East Phillips neighborhood and members of community organizations from across the city rallied on Saturday outside of Smith Foundry, calling for its immediate shutdown.

Smith Foundry has been recognized as a health hazard by nearby residents for decades, according to both empirical metrics – Smith is responsible for over 70% of all lead pollution in Hennepin County, and respiratory and cardiovascular disease rates are through the roof – along with personal experiences. Many neighbors attested to years of fruitless attempts to tell government agencies about strong chemical smells, black smoke, and dust-like residue all coming from the foundry but being completely ignored.

Last month, it was revealed in documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request that the Environmental Protection Agency had found evidence of egregious Clean Air Act violations at Smith Foundry during a surprise visit but did not alert the public of these findings. Despite the major renewal of community outcry for Smith to be shut down immediately after this revelation, the EPA and their state-level counterpart, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, have failed to offer any solutions.

East Phillips is one of Minneapolis’ most diverse and working-class neighborhoods, and is home to Little Earth, the only Native-preference subsidized housing community in the country. Climate Justice Committee member Mordecai Mika highlighted this in a speech Saturday, condemning the colonialism and racism that is the status quo in Minneapolis: “What else is there to say when the militarized police hunt people for minor offenses while East Phillips continues to be poisoned?”

Speakers from Little Earth, such as Jolene Jones and Nicole Mason, also spoke out against the horrific environmental racism carried out against their community by the state of Minnesota, describing it as just one facet of ongoing colonial violence.

Another issue emphasized by speakers at the rally was the need to dispel the pervasive myth that the interests of the environmental justice movement are at odds with those of workers. Mel DiMartini, a speaker from Minnesota Workers United, highlighted the real antagonism: this working-class neighborhood’s health versus the profits of Smith’s owners, a Canadian venture capital firm called Zynik Capital. “We the workers are the foundation of this community. The rich owners of Smith Foundry would have us believe that our livelihoods are dependent on sacrificing the health and wellbeing of our families and our community – we reject that lie!” DiMartini and other speakers demanded that Smith’s owners use their enormous wealth to ensure a just transition for workers after the factory is shut down, as well as compensation for medical costs related to the foundry’s appalling conditions.

The Climate Justice Committee will be hosting a community meeting with the MPCA on January 11, 2024 in the East Phillips neighborhood, urging the agency to take accountability for their decades of inaction by pledging to finally shut down Smith Foundry.

#MinneapolisMN #EnvironmentalJustice