Northern Metals Fire in Becker, Minn.

Northern Metals Fire in Becker, Minn.

A fire was reported Tuesday, Feb. 18 at the Northern Metals recycling plant in Becker, Minn.

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 is 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 should residents do to protect themselves?

  • 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, people should 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 older adults, 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.
  • Debris, fine ash, and dust particles from the fire has settled out in some areas downwind of the facility. People are cautioned to avoid or minimize contact with these materials. People should try to avoid walking through deposited materials or remove footwear upon entering to prevent tracking dust or ash into homes or vehicles. If it is necessary to clean items or areas with debris, avoid or minimize skin contact or stirring up fine dusts, such wearing gloves or using a wet soapy rag or sponge. Do not allow pets to contact areas or items soiled from the fire.
  • As always, people should contact their health care provider if they believe their health has been affected by the fire.

What are state officials doing to protect people and the environment?

  • The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is working with a contractor to conduct air sampling at the Northern Metals site and nearby. This includes sampling for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), metals, and particulate matter. The MPCA and MDH will provide air monitoring while the fire is ongoing.
  • Emergency management staff from the MPCA are on site to support local efforts. The MPCA will also provide local support and coordination for cleanup at the site.
  • MPCA contractors started on-site air sampling Thursday, Feb. 20.
  • They are testing for VOCs (volatile organic compounds, which have many sources, one of which is combustion) and metals (lead, etc.).
  • These samples require lab analysis. Initial results received Friday afternoon, Feb. 21, show nothing unusual in terms of the types and levels of VOCs found. Lead results will be available soon.
  • MPCA staff deployed four additional monitors Friday for particulate matter. These monitors provide real-time results. They are not seeing particulates at levels of concern. Levels are similar to those seen in the metro area.
  • Air sampling will continue until a determination is made that it is no longer necessary. 
  • Ash and other residues that became airborne and may have drifted into nearby areas during the fire will be sampled.
  • Measures were taken early in the fire response to contain runoff from firefighting on site.  All the firefighting water has been contained on site and has been sampled.
  • MPCA continues to support the local incident commanders (Becker fire and police, and Sherburne County Sheriff).
  • Once the emergency phase is over, the focus will change to assessing potential environmental impacts to surface waters, groundwater, and soils.
  • For more information, visit the North Minneapolis air monitoring project | Minnesota Pollution Control Agency webpage.