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Activists protest Smith Foundry lead exposure, call on MPCA to act

Protesters stand with a banner that reads "Shut Down Smith Foundry" in front of the MPCA's offices. A woman in front holds speaks into a microphone.
Members of the Climate Justice Committee recently held a protest at the offices of the MPCA. (CBJ Photo/Jasmine McBride)

Community members are demanding the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency shut down a local iron foundry. A petition with 500 signatures has been collected by the Climate Justice Committee protesting the MPCA’s decision to permit Smith Foundry, yet the CJC says it has yet to get a response from the MPCA. 

“What this shows is there is an appalling disregard for the actual task of the MPCA, which is to keep us safe. The MPCA is not willing to be accountable, or do their f***ing job,” said Tracy Molm of the Climate Justice Committee.

Community members have been protesting the Smith Foundry for months now. Smith Foundry produces iron castings for use with industrial machinery and the manufacturing of transportation equipment. Its site in Minneapolis has been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency, uncovering elevated emissions of pollutants such as particulate matter and lead. 

The Smith Foundry is located in the East Phillips neighborhood, which is home to the Little Earth Native American community.  Approximately 75% of the residents of East Phillips are people of color. 

“We have consistently been at their [MPCA board] meetings calling on them to actually do the work – to talk about the fact that a foundry is sitting next to an asphalt manufacturer, is sitting next to a highway. For too long, the people of East Phillips have taken the impact of environmental racism. It’s modern day redlining,” said Molm.

Lead damages every organ and system of the body and, with extended exposure, can even be fatal, particularly for children. Adults absorb 20% of lead they are exposed to, while children absorb as much as 70%. Pregnant women can pass on lead absorption to their unborn babies through the bloodstream, and new mothers can expose their babies to lead poisoning via breastfeeding. Lead poisoning in infants increases the chance of developmental delays and brain damage.

“This is a horrible thing to be hurting someone before they are even born,” said Toya Lopez of Health Practitioners for a Healthy Climate.

The Center for Broadcast Journalism contacted both the MPCA and the Smith Foundry for interviews, but neither have responded in a timely manner to the requests. Community members say MPCA’s lack of acknowledgment is causing major distrust, leading them to doubt its stance that it exists to protect Minnesotans.

“The regulatory agencies and Smith Foundry itself would have you believe that they stepped up to the plate, but they have hidden behind red tape and bureaucracy every step of the way,” said Kay Lerohl of the Climate Justice Committee. “Assuming that the lead emission rates that the data indicates are constant during regularly working hours, there are nearly four pounds of lead per year coming from the tested sites alone – fifteen years if it was running around the clock. And let’s not forget this test only happened after Smith fixed the filtration systems they neglected for God knows how long.”

The Climate Justice Committee is still taking signatures for its petition and says it will continue to be present at the conversations surrounding the Smith Foundry until the MPCA makes changes. 


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