Toxic leak

Joe Carlson

A class action suit accusing a southeast Minneapolis milling company of exposing area residents to a toxic fumigant leaves the door open for University community members to join in.
Nine people have officially filed a suit against Archer Daniels Midland Milling Co. The company owned a building fumigated by Industrial Fumigants, Inc. The fumigating company is also a defendant in the suit.
The building in question, located at 335 Main St. S.E., is a mill that is connected to surrounding buildings by underground pipes and tunnels. Attorneys for the plaintiffs said University employees and students could have been exposed to a toxic chemical.
An official for the mill could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In the past, the company and its attorneys have refused requests for interviews related to the chemical exposure.
The suit comes nearly nine months after the death of Minneapolis sculptor Santos Fernandez, 54, who had a studio in a nearby building at 302 Second St. S.E. A Hennepin County medical examiner later ruled Fernandez died from exposure to methyl bromide — the fumigant in question.
Methyl bromide is an odorless, colorless gas used to kill insects and rodents. The fumigant is also commonly used to treat fruits grown mainly in California and Florida. The fumigant is being phased out by the federal Environmental Protection Agency as an ozone-depleting chemical.
Fernandez’ wife, Mary Fernandez, filed suit against the milling company, the fumigant company and the fumigant applicator in February; the case has yet to go to trial.
Mary Fernandez is not currently listed as a plaintiff in the class action suit, which is made up of people who were allegedly exposed to methyl bromide.
John Bitenc, who was a friend of Fernandez, is a plaintiff in the class action suit. He said he shared a studio just down the hall from Fernandez. He experienced vomiting, lack of sleep, nervousness and a “loss of the concept of reality” after he alleges he was exposed to the fumigant.
Bitenc said the methyl bromide seeped into Fernandez’ art studio by way of underground tunnels. He said the building used to be a machine shop for the nearby mill before ADM bought the mill from Pillsbury.
Another man who is a plaintiff in the case, Dale Lynch, is the owner of a nearby business, P’nL Services, which modifies vans for people with disabilities.
Lynch said he decided to join the suit after he had hot and cold flashes between unexplained aches and pains.
“I’ve been sicker than hell,” Lynch said.
The pipes and tunnels that connect the mill with nearby buildings have all been sealed over, and Lynch said he doesn’t expect future leaks.
Also, the Minneapolis city officials have formed a committee to analyze the way dangerous fumigants are licensed and applied in the city. City administrators said mill officials have pledged to stop using methyl bromide in favor of a safer, organic pest killer called pyrethrin.