MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Rep. Ilhan Omar says that the recycling plant north of the Twin Cities where a fire raged for days this week should be held “criminally liable” for its negligence.

The congresswoman, who represents Minneapolis and its surrounding suburbs, released a statement Thursday accusing Northern Metal Recycling of repeatedly violating the law, referencing a 2017 lawsuit and a settlement last year where the company admitted to altering pollution records.

(credit: CBS)

At the facility in Becker, which is about 45 miles northwest of Minneapolis, steam was still rising Friday morning from piles of junked cars that had been burning since early Tuesday. The fire spewed pungent, black smoke for days.

Concerns over air quality forced schools in Becker to close on Thursday. As the wind carried the smoke and fine particles south, air quality in the Twin Cities was downgraded. Some residents in the metro reported smelling burning metal and plastic.

“This will undoubtedly cause more asthma attacks, leading to more school absences and avoidable deaths in my district,” Omar said, in the statement. “As with all environmental disasters, it will disproportionately impact communities of color and low-income people.”

Northern Metal Recycling was recently located in Omar’s district, but the company was forced to move from north Minneapolis last fall after northside residents complained of air pollution and the company, in the wake of a whistleblower complaint, admitted to altering the records on the performance of its filtration equipment. As part of a settlement, the company paid a $2.5 million fine.

Northern Metal Recycling’s facility in Becker was not yet operational when the fire started Tuesday morning.