As the fire at Northern Metals near Becker continues to rage, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Wright County Department of Public Health are teaming up to give residents guidance this weekend.
Warm weather in the forecast for Friday has the county asking folks to take care before heading outdoors, due to toxic particles released by the fire. Winds should be from the south this weekend, but prevailing winds earlier this week forced students indoors for recess, for example.
Here’s the statement from the MPCA and Wright County:
The information below was developed by the Minnesota Department of Health and shared with local public health agencies on February 20, 2020 in dealing with the fire and smoke emanating from the Northern Metals facility in Becker. Wright County Public Health will continue to monitor this situation and send out additional details if needed.
What do people need to know about this fire and any health risks?
- Smoke from any fire can contain potentially harmful substances. The overall risk is determined by several factors, including what is burning, the level of exposure a person or community has to the smoke, and how long they are exposed.
- To minimize the risk from the fire that has been burning at the Northern Metals facility in Becker, our recommendation has been that residents avoid inhaling smoke and stay away from the immediate area.
- If the risk assessment changes we will work with local officials to alert people to any recommended actions.
What do we know about the smoke itself?
- Large fires involving the varied fuel sources (i.e., plastics, rubber, fire retardants, oils, synthetic materials, etc.) expected to be present in junked cars can generate a complex mixture of airborne hazards.
- The amount of any particular contaminants will vary for any specific location and time, depending on many factors including characteristics of the fire itself and the weather.
What is your guidance for people concerned about the smoke from the Becker fire?
- Because the potentially harmful components of the smoke and gases such a fire can produce may be irritating and harmful to some people’s health if they are exposed to too much or for long periods, the Minnesota Department of Health supports the recommendations for the public to avoid or minimize exposures by moving away from areas that are affected by smoke if it is safe to do so, or by staying indoors.
- Some people may be more sensitive to exposure to the smoke (e.g., sensitive populations such as children or the elderly, or those with health problems like asthma, COPD, and some heart or breathing difficulties that are made worse by poor air quality) and could be affected more than a healthy adult. These groups should take steps to avoid exposure to smoke if possible. That may mean relocating from the immediate area around the facility or where smoke is present for the duration of the fire.
- As always, the Minnesota Department of Health advises people to contact their health care provider if they believe their health has been affected by exposure to airborne hazards from the fire.