The Northern Metals shredder is gone, but environmental dangers remain 


North Minneapolis has a history of air pollution which affects the well-being and health of its residents.

After a whistleblower discovered that Northern Metals was making emissions seem safe, the former Northern Metals metal shredder had to be shut down in September 2019. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA span>, the metal shredding produced carcinogens and toxic emissions that were released into the atmosphere. This area now has significantly higher levels of particulates in the air.

The accident occurred in April 2021 when various materials caught on fire at the North Minneapolis location. MPCA reported that the MPCA’s air quality sensors detected a short-term spike of fine particles for just a few hours.

Northern Metals used the 2800 Pacific St. riverfront location as storage until January after a 2020 fire at their facilities in Becker, Minnesota. The North Minneapolis site is now available for sale. Northern Metals might not be storing any metals, but other companies are. Alliance Recycling is located near the riverfront at 115 31st Ave. N. There are multiple mounds full of metal that seem to go beyond the state’s 20-foot limit.

It is unclear how long these piles have been growing up and MinnPost was not aware of them until MinnPost raised the matter. John Louis, communications manager for City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development, said that the problem was discovered by MinnPost. According to city inspectors, Alliance is moving the items from the stacks to rail cars and trucks.

People from Alliance told the city that there was a backup of their services because of a shortage in rail cars. They expect to be back up and running next week. Louis sent an email stating that inspectors will visit the site Tuesday.

Locally owned company collects scrap metal and processes it. Sometimes, this involves mechanical shearing, baling or baling. Then it sends it via truck or rail to commercial customers who will melt it or use.

MinnPost photo taken by Ava Kian
Alliance Recycling is located near the riverfront and has several mounds full of metal that seem to go beyond the city’s 20 foot limit.

Commercial Container Corp. is another recycling facility, located just blocks away at 2209 N. 2nd St. Dust particles can be seen from outside, making it difficult to breathe.

span style=”font weight: 400″> People can dump their trash inside the building. The company then removes recyclable materials and disposes of the rest. It is not clear how long the trash will remain at the site.

MinnPost reached Commercial Container Corp. to learn more about their environmental practices. A representative of the company declined comment.

Fire Inspections Services in the city manage compliance with codes through yearly inspections. Louis stated that any inspections or checks beyond this would usually be the result of community reports or complaints.

The city reached out to the owners to inquire about the situation. They explained that their truck was damaged and that they were short of staff, which causes the piles to grow. Louis sent an email to Louis.

Residents of the neighborhood, who are overwhelmingly Black and live only a few blocks east, have been exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution. According to Minnesota Compass, the Near North neighborhood is home to 78 percent people of colour, with Black residents making up half of the population.

MPCA analyzed 2015 air quality data and found that areas with a majority of residents of color had five-fold the number of asthma emergency department visits than those in predominantly white areas.

While Northern Metals operated, the 55411 zip code had the highest number of asthma hospitalizations, according to the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.


The MPCA continues to monitor the area, even though the Northern Metals shredder was closed in 2019. The area currently has three monitors. The MPCA plans to add another monitor by the end of 2019.

According to the MPCA, there has been an improvement in the air quality since Northern Metals closed down. This includes a significant drop in total suspended particulates, PM10 particles (which can be inhaled particles), and lead. Despite improvements in air quality, Northern Metals still exists. It is possible that the industrial component of the region could continue to contribute to pollution.

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
Northern Metals might not be storing any metals, but blocks away, there are other companies that do.

“We still see higher levels of particulate matter on windy days, especially.” We’ve seen them a little after the snow melt, but we know that they will continue to get larger particles,” Kari Palmer, Manager of MPCA Air Assessment Section, said.

She believes that the higher levels can be partly explained by the unpaved roads and heavy vehicle traffic used for industrial purposes.

Palmer stated that residents in the area are also concerned by odors.

Although the MPCA hasn’t yet analyzed data for 2020 and 2021, it generally shows that PM10 and total suspended particulate amounts are higher in North Minneapolis than other areas, Palmer stated.

“Residents have a lot of concerns around a number of industrial users down off the river,” said Minneapolis City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, who represents Ward 5, where the industrial/residential corridor is located.

A big change is coming

The city is just one mile away and has big plans. Near the former Northern Metals site is the ambitious Upper Harbor Terminal project. It is expected to bring more residential housing, commercial space, and an outdoor entertainment center at a cost of approximately $350 million.

The project was started in 2015 when the site was being redeveloped as a river terminal. In October 2021, Minneapolis City Council approved the plan.

Plans include affordable housing, a hospital, and a park of 20 acres. First Avenue will also manage the amphitheater. The project is being developed by United Properties, but the land will remain the property of the city.

The city wants to build a mixed-income community for housing. One-third of the units will be affordable to households with 30-50% Area Median Income (AMI), another third to households with 50-70% AMI, and the last third to market renters.

Concept rendering of the Upper Harbor Terminal’s community performing arts center.

According to the plan, $3 from every amphitheater concert ticket will go towards local businesses, community art funding and supporting anti-displacement initiatives in the neighborhood.

According to LaTrisha Vetaw (the Minneapolis Council Member for Ward 4 home to the Upper Harbor Terminal), the amphitheater would allow residents of the neighborhood to come together and give life to the area.

Vetaw stated that the northside is often viewed as a scary place. “I believe it would be great to have a destination area where people could come from all around the world and bring some taxes into the neighborhood. This would allow for more amenities in the neighbourhood.”

Community Members for Environmental Justice and Minnesota Center strongly oppose the plan.

While many people believe that this project will be a benefit to the community, others feel that it does not take into account some key considerations. Roxxanne O’Brien was involved in the early stages of the project and felt that developers didn’t think about the community.

span style=”font weight: 400 The issue began to happen when I started to see a lot of promises made to anyone who would believe them. O’Brien stated that it was like a big-scale buying of anyone who would take it. “I started to doubt the process and even distrust its integrity span>

O’Brien was a community organizer for Community Members for Environmental Justice (CMEJ) and served on the Upper Harbor Terminal Collaborative Planning Committee. She later resigned.

span style=”font weight: 400 The first day we met, it was clear that they were trying to convince our committee with the same story. They had been feeding us this plan for 11 months and not addressing the issues we had presented to the council.

O’Brien has been fighting for Northern Metals for many years. She said that this new development is yet another example of how the city doesn’t put the community first and foremost.


CMEJ is suing Minneapolis for its redevelopment plan. It cites inadequacies in environmental reviews and a lack of community involvement during the planning process.

The city was to approve the plan for the Upper Harbor Terminal from CMEJ in January 2021. However, Melissa Lorentz (lead attorney) informed them that they must conduct an environmental review before making any final decisions. In July 2021, the city published an environmental review. The lawsuit claims that this review was not complete.

span style=”font weight: 400 When we received the environmental review, we found it incomplete. O’Brien stated that it’s almost as if a child is filling in homework. They didn’t mention the cumulative environmental impact of our community. We found it interesting that they didn’t mention climate change. They also failed to consider gentrification and displacement issues .”

MCEA filed the suit in October, after the council had approved the final plan.

span style=”font weight: 400 The environmental review did not discuss climate change. It did not mention greenhouse gas emissions. It did not mention ‘OK, this property is riverfront. How will climate change affect this project? We know it is going to impact the river. ‘” Lorentz said. “This is an area where the city should pay more attention. This environmental review was really minimal.

The case is currently being heard in the district court. Lorentz stated that they have been fighting over procedural matters, which are causing delays in the process.

span style=”font weight: 400 I would hope they would simply engage with the community to address these concerns. This seems much more cost-effective than spending money. They are paying private lawyers to do it. They hired an outside company. Lorentz stated that they are spending taxpayer money to combat this.

Disagreement with the city council

There is much debate among the city council about the project and how it meets the needs of the community. Ellison wants the city to consider all environmental effects of such a project.

span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” We should ask for a higher consideration of the environmental impacts, or at least a higher standard. This is the riverfront. He stated that it was crucial that a large project such as this is done right.

The project was approved by the city council 12-1, Ellison being the only opposing vote. Vetaw is aware of the environmental concerns but still wants the project to go ahead.

span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” I (understand) why people feel anxious about certain things. She said that people have promised us stuff and they say, “Oh yes, we’re going to make sure this doesn’t happen.” “Where my commitment lies, is to make sure we don’t get similar deals .”

She said that the project can be a source of growth for the northside if it is done right.

She said that people are excited about the Upper Harbor Terminal. “I want to make sure that, whatever the final development outside of housing, the residents have the opportunity to use it. I want to see many jobs. It is very important that we create many jobs, not just for those in our immediate area, but also to provide ongoing training so they can keep their jobs span>

The project is now

The city is currently in the first phase, which means that the city has been clearing the site and rough grading it. Erik Hansen, director of Policy & Economic Development at the City of Minneapolis, said that this phase will cost between $15 million to $20 million.

The city plans to have water lines, sewer lines, and roads by 2023. The city has already spent approximately five percent of the $350 million that was allocated to the project.

What happens to the area adjacent, the former Northern Metals region?

Hansen stated that the city plans to buy the former Northern Metals site, and include it in a larger park plan called ‘Above the Falls.

The Above the Falls Regional Park aims to be a continuous park and trail system that runs along both the banks of the Mississippi River from the riverfront at the east bank and west banks of St. Anthony Falls, up to the border of Minneapolis and Columbia Heights.

Regional Parks System, City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County

The plan calls for the whole waterfront to be owned by the public. Hansen stated that some areas such as Edgewater Park near Lowry and the parkway north from the Plymouth Avenue bridge have been explored by the city.

Hansen stated that the park board had been trying to purchase the Northern Metals site. Hansen said that they wanted to use the chance to clean up the site, which has many hazardous issues. They also want some land to continue the cleanup. We should expect a continuous trail system that runs from the northern border of Minneapolis to the bottom .”

Atlas Land Co. LLC is the owner of the Northern Metals site according to property records. Hansen stated that Riverfront Development Partners is a potential buyer, but the Park Board still has its eyes on it.

span style=”font weight: 400 There’s a real keen interest (to buy it) from the cityside as well. That thing must go. He said that this is not a positive contribution to our community.”

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