Air quality concerns follow Northern Metals' potential move to Becker

People living in Becker, Minn., are wondering why a recycling facility that's been ordered to shut down part of its facility north Minneapolis now has its sights set on their community, gathering for the first time at a community meeting Thursday to voice their concerns.

Just a year ago, the Fox 9 Investigators found dangerous levels of lead in the air outside Northern Metals Recycling--which sits right next door to the north Minneapolis neighborhood in which children show the second highest level of lead concentrations in the state.

Around the same time, Northern Metals came to a settlement with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency which required the company to make improvements and reduce its impact by halting its shredding operation--though a report last month showed high levels of airborne particles near the facility that worried community members and air quality experts alike.

“I don’t want my family dealing with that," said Josh Tebben, who lives in Becker near the proposed facility. "So it’s one of the main concerns I have that they’ve taken care of what they needed to.”

The company is currently looking to move its shredding operations to a location off Highway 10 in Becker as part of a separate agreement with Xcel Energy, a measure the MPCA hopes will allow Northern Metals to operate in a cleaner fashion.

"It was a difficult site for them to operate cleanly at the old location—they’ll be able to do a much better job up here,” said MPCA Spokesperson Ralph Pribble at Thursday's meeting. "We think this is a good move for them."

It's a sentiment Northern Metals Chief Operating Officer Scott Helberg echoes, especially since he and his family live in Becker near the proposed site.

“Being a resident of Becker and having family living here, grandchildren going to the school, air quality and making sure that everything is done correctly is very important to me,” he said.

But even after Thursday's listening session residents said they felt like they had more questions than answers, and no real say in the company's relocation despite the fact that it almost certainly will affect their quality of life.

“We live up here because there is less pollution and it’s quieter," said Sarah Boucher, another Becker resident. "I grew up in the Cities and I picked this because it was quiet.”