After more than four days of fighting a fire that spewed particles of paint, rubber and more into the air, the blaze at the Northern Metals Recycling Plant in Becker is considered “under control.”
But the fireworks might be just beginning.
The state’s pollution control agency – MPCA – has ordered the business to be shut down immediately, according to media reports. The administrative order, issued Friday, said the business is an “imminent danger” to residents of the Sherburne County community and other nearby cities, including Wright County’s Monticello and Otsego -with their proximity to the Mississippi River.
The investigation into the multiple-day fire, which spewed smoke so great it could be captured from space satellite cameras and on Doppler Radar systems – is just starting to form. The MPCA has acquired services from multiple contractors to test air, water and soil levels at the site and near the auto recycler.
Sherburne County residents, meanwhile, are asking Becker and their county representatives to investigate how the business ended up in their backyard, particularly after it was unceremoniously kicked out of Minneapolis in late 2019. The Mayor of Becker has said, on record, her staff did its “due diligence” in investigating the moving process and the construction of the new facility – which was to include a car “shredder” that would reduce the piles of cars to scrap.
However, the permits to run the shredder had yet to be utilized by the business – hence the piles of cars dozens of feet high at the Becker site. And, a pollution control system that was to be in place was not yet functional, according to reports.
More than 100 fire departments – from as far away as the Lake Superior region – fought the fire.
More from the MPCA:
- MPCA contractors started air sampling on-site Thursday (2/20).
- They’re testing for VOCs (volatile organic compounds, which have many sources — one of which is combustion) and metals (lead, etc.).
- These samples require lab analysis. Initial results received Friday afternoon show nothing unusual in terms of the types and levels of VOCs found. Lead results will be available soon.
- MPCA staff deployed four additional monitors on Friday for particulate matter. These monitors provide real-time results. They are not seeing particulates at levels of concern. Levels are similar to those seen in the metro area.
- Air sampling will continue until a determination is made that it’s no longer necessary.
- Ash and other residues that became airborne and may have drifted into nearby areas during the fire will be sampled.
- Measures were taken early in the fire response to contain runoff from firefighting on-site. All the firefighting water has been contained on-site and has been sampled.
- MPCA continues to support the local incident commanders (Becker fire and police and Sherburne County Sheriff).
- Once the emergency phase is over, the focus will change to assessing potential environmental impacts to surface waters, groundwater and soils.