Neighborhood associations sign pact with polluter

In 2001, Ritrama produced 130,000 pounds of toluene, a pollutant that can harm the nervous system, liver, kidneys and skin in high amounts.

RBy Joe Mahon

Representatives from southeast Minneapolis neighborhoods signed an unprecedented deal with a local air polluter Thursday to voluntarily control emissions and strengthen community relations.

The “good neighbor agreement,” signed by management at Ritrama, is the first such emission-reduction deal in Minnesota.

Other signers included the Southeast Como Improvement Association, Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association, St. Anthony Park Community Council and Mississippi Corridor Neighborhood Coalition.

The nonbinding agreement provides for Ritrama to make documents on pollution, emergency response plans and other issues available to the community.

“We’re going to share some of the things you need to have on file, which aren’t necessarily public information,” said Woody Pothen, Ritrama’s operations manager.

Ritrama, based in Milan, Italy, produces adhesives for labels and decals. Its plant on Kasota Avenue emits toluene, a toxic pollutant that can harm the nervous system, liver, kidneys and skin under high exposure.

In 2001, Ritrama produced 130,000 pounds of toluene, 92 percent of all toluene emissions in Minneapolis, according to the Southeast Minneapolis Environmental Inventory.

Ritrama has decided to equip its factory with thermal oxidizers, which will reduce toluene and other air pollutant emissions 98 percent by the end of the year.

Part of Thursday’s agreement states Ritrama will keep residents informed about its progress, including letting them take tours.

“They were planning on doing this anyway for compliance and efficiency reasons, but having the community supervision will ensure that they stay on track,” said Justin Eibenholzl, Southeast Como and Prospect Park environmental coordinator.

Eibenholzl said the pollution control will make the plant more efficient, even if it requires a large investment.

“It takes money and energy, but it can get rid of these toxic chemicals that might get to the Tuttle School and the day care center that are nearby,” Eibenholzl said.

The changes will allow the plant to produce water-based and solvent-based adhesives with the same equipment. The adhesives are currently made on different equipment.

Air quality is a major concern for residents of southeast Minneapolis, where the industrial zones contain some of the state’s largest reporters of toxic releases.

Thursday’s agreement is the product of two years of planning to get businesses involved with the community.

“It may take time to get the businesses to come to the table, but it’s worth it,” said Amy Luesebrink of the Mississippi Corridor Neighborhoods Coalition.

The agreement’s main objective is increased communication.

“The worst thing is not knowing,” Pothen said. “You smell stuff, you see trucks, you see chemicals and drums, and you think the worst.”

The agreement also says Ritrama will report major spills to the neighborhood and be willing to participate in or sponsor neighborhood activities such as community gardening.

Representatives from other pollution-producing businesses also attended the signing. Participants said they hope to reach similar deals with other businesses.

Joe Mahon covers campus neighborhoods and welcomes comments at [email protected]