MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A recycling plant known for causing a blue haze in the neighborhood is now under fire.
An EPA investigation says the Rosemount company called Spectro Alloys Corporation is releasing hazardous chemicals — even possibly causing health problems.
WCCO’s Erin Hassanzadeh first reported on concerns in the area last fall and says neighbors are still concerned.
When we met Jim Quist last fall, he was concerned about the air quality near his home and told us it was eating away at his house. The house is now leveled. He sold it back to the company he once worked for who provided the house. Jim is dealing with a diagnosis that he thinks could be from his former industrial neighbor.
“Well I’ve been through eight sessions of chemo which has been an experience,” Quist said.
Quist found out about his pancreatic cancer about five months ago.
There’s no way to know or prove it was triggered by the emissions from the aluminum recycling facility he lived next to for decades, but Jim has his suspicions that it is.
“When you would wake up and see that blue haze I mean it was very distinctive and it had a very metallic taste in your mouth and you wonder what its doing to your health,” Quist said.
Quist also thinks that the emissions from the Spectro Alloys Corporation facility were stripping the color off his siding and eroding the aluminum on his house.
Jim moved away four months ago to a serene cabin in northern Minnesota, he says because of the plant.
“It was a decision made to get away from what I had put up with for 30 years,” Quist said.
“We could barely leave our house most days. It’s so loud some days we can’t even hear our TV and you just can’t get away from it,” said Becca, who lives near Jim’s old house and Spectro Alloys Corporation.
Becca bought her dream property with room for a hobby farm five years ago.
And had her own cancer scare three years after moving in.
Like Jim, she cannot prove it but wonders if the facility could have something to do with it.
“Wee would walk outside and it would burn our eyes and the back of our throats. We could taste it for a couple hours afterwards we were afraid to let our dogs outside in it it,” Becca said. “It tasted like burnt batteries or like chlorine,”
Becca and Jim’s concerns about pollution were recently validated when an EPA investigation revealed multiple clean air act violations which “have caused or can cause excess emissions of particulate matter” according to EPA documents.
The EPA documents go on to say that the particulate matter contains “metal HAPs (hazardous air pollutants) and hydrochloric acid.”
The EPA says that can lead to lung damage and central nervous system dysfunction among other health problems.
“It’s kind of relieving that they’re finally looking into it. At the same time we feel really let down that it just keeps happening,” said Becca. “The enforcement in place is inadequate to control them.”
The company does have a history of MPCA violations.
Including multiple air quality and hazardous waste violations dating back decades.
Spectro Alloys President Luke Palen says the company is working with the EPA and MPCA on the alleged violations.
Adding that “We’ve worked very hard over the last decade to make sure we’re a good corporate neighbor.”
But Jim and Becca disagree.
And they are not afraid to say it.
“We deserve the right to walk outside and breath clean air,” Becca said.
“I’m going to stick through this with them and help them fight this battle,” Quist said.
Quist’s cancer is now in remission and Becca says she has no plans to move. She simply wants the company to clean up its operations.
The EPA has a few enforcement options including issuing a compliance order, penalty or bringing criminal or civil judicial action.
City and county officials tell Erin they support regulatory enforcement and are looking into the EPA findings.