Freezing temperatures could have made a bad situation worse when an abandoned business left some dangerous chemicals behind in a Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood.
A metal finishing business had gone out of business and was unable to maintain the property. Hazardous waste chemicals remained in the facility, but the building was unattended and without lighting or heat. With winter approaching, the situation required an immediate response. The MPCA stepped in to do the emergency cleanup.
In November 2018, the Hennepin County Hazardous Waste Program asked the MPCA to undertake this cleanup. They were concerned about the chemicals still stored in the building, including acids and bases left over from metal plating processes. Most chemicals were stored in tanks and plating baths. Some were stored in 55-gallon containers. If no action was taken, “the chemicals would have started to freeze, and likely broken the tanks and piping that contained them,” explains Jason Moran of the MPCA’s Emergency Management Unit (EMU). “Then the chemicals could have released into the building, creating a risk that they would interact with other chemicals and generate additional hazards, including a fire risk.” If chemicals were released, they could also leak out of the building and into the ground or the surrounding residential neighborhood, increasing the likelihood of human exposure and potential for groundwater contamination.
The EMU assessed the site, reached an agreement with the departing business owner, and hired a licensed contractor, Bay West, to conduct the cleanup process. MPCA staff monitored and provided oversight of the project. Cleanup began on December 7, 2018, and was completed on January 24, 2019. MPCA’s contractor completed the project within seven weeks, and under budget.
By taking urgent action, and working with Hennepin County, the City of Minneapolis, the Metropolitan Council, and Bay West, the MPCA prevented a risk to the public. This could have been really bad said Moran, “We had about 46,000 gallons of various chemicals we had to deal with." One of the greatest challenges was identifying the different wastes in all the containers and tanks. Many containers were not properly labeled, which required taking samples to identify each substance. Handling hazardous waste material is always risky for the workers involved, Moran says, so “we’re pretty happy when we can resolve a situation as quickly as we did to minimize the threats to the environment and human health, and without any injuries or additional spills within the facility during that process.” All hazardous waste at this site was handled, treated and disposed of according to Minnesota regulations to protect human health and the surrounding neighborhood.
The MPCA emergency response unit responds to more than 3,000 calls each year for emergency incidents, including chemical fires, train derailments, oil spills, and pipeline breaks. Responding to environmental emergencies is a crucial part of how we fulfill our mission to protect and improve the environment and human health. But many times, our Emergency Management Unit is working hard behind the scenes to prevent such emergencies from occurring in the first place. For more information, visit MPCA's emergency response webpage.