Several Rosemount neighbors are demanding answers about a mysterious blue-green haze that they say often hovers in the air near their homes, stinging their eyes and corroding the metal trim on at least one resident’s house.
The residents live near Spectro Alloys, an aluminum smelting company, and they say it’s clear the fog originates there. They believe it’s toxic and want to know the cause.
“There’s obviously something not right when you can taste metal in your mouth,” said Jim Quist, who has lived on 7 acres in northeast Rosemount for 30 years. “These guys are doing something wrong — they just are.”
The residents have complained to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the city for more than two years but say nothing has changed.
An MPCA spokesperson, however, confirmed the agency is investigating Spectro’s air emissions, adding that the investigation could be routine or prompted by a complaint.
Spectro officials say that they’re doing nothing wrong and that their recycling facility is providing an environmentally valuable service by recycling aluminum, which is over 90% more efficient than making items out of new metal.
The plant has state-of-the-art pollution control equipment to capture emissions, and is complying with its MPCA permit, said Luke Palen, president of Spectro Alloys.
When contacted recently by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the haze, the pictures the agency sent them showed the plant’s steam stacks, which emit visible steam, he said.
“On this particular day, there was 100% humidity and it was overcast,” he said in an e-mail. “The water vapor did not dissipate and the result was a cloudy haze in the air.”
Quist disputes that steam is the cause. “Steam dissipates … [but] this never disappears,” he said. “It’s got particulate in it.”
Thanks to a lifetime warranty, he’s replaced the taupe vinyl siding on his house three times in the last decade because the haze is removing the color, he said, adding that it’s also eating the aluminum trim around his windows and corroding nailheads.
There are just three homes in the vicinity, including Quist’s. One neighbor runs a horse boarding facility and the other has a hobby farm. Both those properties are zoned agricultural while Quist’s is zoned industrial. “We’re kind of the forgotten stepchild,” Quist said. “The battle here is between three residents and a company.”
A $125,000 fine in 2016
Spectro Alloys, which began operating in 1973, sits in an industrial-zoned area and employs 175 people. Nearby businesses include a pig feed plant, a fertilizer producer and the Pine Bend oil refinery. It’s also contained within the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area, a protected zone with special land use rules.
Spectro receives scrap aluminum, cleans it and melts it down into blocks of metal, which are bought by foundries and die casters to make items such as lawn mower engines and car parts, its website says.
The plant has a history of explosions — including six incidents between 1989 and 2011, three of which violated safety regulations — and officials there pleaded guilty to failing to disclose that Spectro’s own monitoring revealed excessive pollutant levels when sued by the EPA in 2012. Palen called that issue a misunderstanding and said the company had been unsure whether those results needed to be reported. Spectro has corrected the problem, he said.
In 2016, Spectro had to pay the MPCA a $125,000 fine for hazardous-waste and stormwater violations.
The city, county and MPCA all said they take residents’ complaints seriously.
Logan Martin, Rosemount city administrator, said the city submitted a couple of complaints to the MPCA this spring to help kick off the investigation, and city staff members keep tabs on the place by taking pictures on their way to work.
“We’re just trying our best to support [the residents] and work with the PCA to get this thing figured out,” he said.
Other than the current crop of complaints, Rosemount city officials say they haven’t received any others about Spectro over the past five years; Dakota County officials said they get a couple per year.
Dave Magnuson, Dakota County waste regulation supervisor, said the county regulates the waste component of Spectro’s operations, which includes solid and hazardous waste.
Metal produces emissions any time it is heated, Magnuson said, adding that whether Spectro is doing something wrong in terms of emissions is a question for the MPCA.
The company’s MPCA permit says it is allowed to emit particulate of various sizes, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hydrogen chloride, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and dioxin/furan.
The MPCA inspects facilities with air permits every two to five years, depending on the specific permit, unless complaints make them more frequent, said Sarah Kilgriff, the MPCA air compliance manager.
‘No way you can be outside’
Quist said that while Spectro has been around for decades, things have gotten worse in recent years. He can’t watch TV on the porch or have friends over without the acrid air burning his eyes and getting in his mouth.
“There’s no way you can be outside,” he said, adding that his yard is full of bare spots now and the oak trees are dying. “I really get blasted.”
At his neighbor’s prompting, Quist said he plans to get his blood tested for dioxin, which has been linked to cancer. He also wants his aluminum trim analyzed by a lab.
It’s crossed his mind to move, he said, though he probably should have done it when his kids were young. “It’s a shame that you have to leave because of an industry that’s causing you grief,” he said.