The Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) have expanded monitoring of sanitary sewers in areas of Minneapolis where flammable substances were released on June 30 and Aug. 2. Emergency responders and law enforcement evacuated residents and businesses on and near the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus after each incident. The additional monitoring will alert officials if high levels of flammable substances are detected and allow them to take swift action and reduce the likelihood of future evacuations.
Multiple agencies launched an investigation into the potential source or sources of the flammable materials immediately following the June 30 incident. The Met Council is leading the investigation in partnership with MPCA, the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and the University of Minnesota to continue to inspect potential sources and monitor in real time for elevated gas or vapor levels present in the sewer systems.
“The safety of the public, including University students, staff, faculty, and visitors, is our top priority,” said Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle. “Staff are working every day to safeguard against discharges like those that were deemed so serious as to evacuate parts of the campus and surrounding neighborhoods.
“In addition to stopping those who have violated the law, we’re working diligently to put measures in place that provide advance notice of hazardous conditions and protect the public,” said Zelle.
Myron Frans, Senior Vice President for University Finance and Operations, reiterated the focus on the safety of the more than 80,000 new and returning students, faculty, staff, visitors, and Gopher fans who will return to the university campus over the next week.
“We are coordinating closely with the Met Council and state and regional officials to support their investigation and develop an early warning system through increased monitoring,” said Frans.
“In addition, we have added our own daily monitoring to buildings and sanitary sewers on and around campus. We have put additional precautions and preparedness plans in place and are in frequent contact with officials to protect students, faculty, and visitors while we collaborate with state and other agencies to solve this regional challenge,” he added.
“This investigation requires the coordination of numerous departments and agencies that are all committed to ensuring the public’s safety,” said Katrina Kessler, MPCA commissioner. “We have taken extraordinary measures to continue monitoring and have developed a response plan should further action be required to protect residents, students, and businesses.”
Other specific steps to date:
- Met Council installed monitors for early response and detection that will alert Met Council and University staff when gas or vapor levels exceed an established threshold of the Lower Explosive Limit (LEL). (LEL represents the concentration of gas or vapor that has the potential to be flammable or ignitable.) This early detection will allow the agencies to detect problems promptly and address them quickly to minimize safety concerns and the need for evacuations as much as possible.
- Met Council staff are inspecting industries in the vicinity of the incidents and upstream. The Met Council issues permits for industries that discharge into the wastewater system and conducts periodic monitoring of those industries.
- Met Council and MPCA identified a source of a violation of a Met Council discharge permit by a Minneapolis company and responded quickly. The Council then entered into an agreement with the company to suspend discharges into the sewer system until conditions are met to safely discharge materials and enhance monitoring.
- Met Council and city staff are performing daily checks on campus and in the investigation area. The Council and MPCA also worked closely with the University on inspections and found no evidence that the source or sources originated on the University’s campus.
- The MPCA inspected targeted petroleum storage tanks and is examining records of nearby facilities. The MPCA regulates petroleum storage tanks and hazardous waste.
- Met Council performed analysis of a sample collected on Aug. 2, finding characteristics consistent with a petroleum-based substance.
- Met Council continues to encourage industrial users and the public to share any information they have on the inappropriate disposal of hazardous material into the sewer system. The Met Council contact is 651-602-4511 and the Minnesota Duty Officer can be contacted at 651-649-5451.
Meanwhile, the investigation continues into any and all potential sources that may have contributed to or caused the discharges this summer.
As a reminder, anyone who smells gas or chemical odors should call 911, for safety purposes and to help trace and identify potential sources.