Jun 13, 2023

Environmental activists rally against Hennepin Energy Recovery Center trash incinerator

Environmental justice groups in Minneapolis want to end trash burning in Minneapolis. They spoke Tuesday at a Hennepin County Board meeting and afterwards at a rally against the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, or HERC.

The Minnesota Environmental Justice Table — a coalition of environmental justice groups — and other organizations attended the meeting. Many held signs outside the meeting room against the windows that read, “We Can’t Breathe” and “Minnetonka & Edina: Stop Burning Your Trash in Our Lungs.”

Advocates and many nearby residents in north Minneapolis want the county to shut down the HERC by 2025. They also want restitution to the communities impacted by the HERC, located near the industrial trash incinerator.

Loretta Akpala, a resident physician at a north Minneapolis clinic, spoke at the meeting. She says the trash incinerator near north Minneapolis emits harmful gases and that leads to many cases of respiratory diseases, especially asthma, in her clinic.

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“Really, really bad gases that are emitted such as nitrous oxide, and even sulfates in the air is part of what is making the gases from the head really poisonous to the community,” Akpala said.

According to the rally's organizers, 49 percent of residents who live near the HERC are low-income and people of color, a population that is disproportionately exposed to air pollution.

Stephanie Maari Booker spoke after the rally. The 20-year north Minneapolis resident said her mother called to warn her to stay inside due to a poor air quality alert recently. Booker says she was outside but didn’t notice a difference in the air.

“Why? Because I'm used to smelling stuff burning over north all the time,” she said. “So I couldn't tell the difference.”

All who spoke at the meeting opposed the HERC.

The Hennepin County website says air emissions at HERC are cleaned and treated before being released, and that the emissions are below the European Union standards for waste-to-energy facilities. The website says the HERC is environmentally preferable to landfills.

“Hennepin County residents and businesses generate more than one million tons of waste each year. Add up all this waste and it's enough to fill Target Field more than 11 times,” the website says. “Processing 365,000 tons of waste at HERC each year is just one part of the county's waste management efforts that emphasize waste prevention, reuse, recycling and composting.”