Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Plan to expand public works site puts residents in harm’s way.

Why is Mayor Frey endangering the health of hundreds, if not thousands, of Minneapolis children?

This rendition provides a view of what the Roof Depot site could look like if it were developed in the community vision.
This rendition provides a view of what the Roof Depot site could look like if it were developed in the community vision.
DJR Architecture

As the parent of a 10-month-old, it’s been a joy to watch our daughter grow, babble and learn to crawl. It has also been a chaotic scramble to anchor furniture, secure dangerous chemicals and more. We all do our best to keep our kids safe. But some dangers are not so easily prepared for by parents alone.

Recently, I watched in horror as the Minneapolis City Council approved the demolition of the Roof Depot site, moving one step closer to the expansion of a public works facility not far from our home in Seward. The project would, among other things, build a new diesel refueling station and add 1,800 more vehicle trips per day to East Phillips, a neighborhood with 71% people of color that has long been the dumping ground for polluting industries.

Facing years-long opposition from community and environmental groups, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has offered some compromises. However, the mayor has been unwilling to budge on the demolition, nor on another issue important to many Minneapolis parents – his plan to consolidate the public works fleet into Phillips, dramatically increasing pollution in the area.

All parents, including my spouse and I, want their children to grow up in a safe and healthy community where kids can play outside. We just ordered seeds for our garden, and are looking forward to our daughter “helping” plant flowers this spring.

Article continues after advertisement

Sadly, Frey’s plan would jeopardize my child’s ability to play in her own yard. And much more so, the kids who live closer to the site – including those in the indigenous community of Little Earth.

Would you let your toddler play outside as diesel trucks barreled down your street hundreds of times a day? And these streets are already among the most polluted. East Phillips residents go to the hospital for asthma at two to four times the metro’s rate.

Why is Frey endangering the health of hundreds, if not thousands, of Minneapolis children?

Maybe he is unaware that diesel engines generate exponentially more particulate pollution than regular gas engines, spewing 40 toxins including benzene, arsenic, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide.

New research shows that particulate pollution is even more harmful than previously known, worsening the risk of asthma, diabetes, attention disorders, impaired cognitive performance, lowered educational outcomes, dementia and Alzheimer’s and contributing to an estimated one-third of all strokes worldwide. Diesel fumes are a significant risk factor for cancer, heart attacks and death.

The mayor’s project would expose the children and elders of Phillips to substantially increased pollution for years to come. That’s bad enough, but study after study shows that increased pollution is much more damaging to people who are already disadvantaged by preexisting pollution, chronic disease, poverty, and systemic racism.

As one of the areas most impacted by poverty, racism, and pollution, Phillips is perhaps the worst possible place to put such a project. The neighborhood already harbors two factories with significant pollution, and over 600 homes were contaminated with arsenic over decades by a local pesticide plant.

Under pressure from community members and the city council, the mayor has offered to add infrastructure for solar power and electric vehicles, hire an “electrification advisory service”, increase tree planting and traffic calming, make bicycle improvements, and supply three acres to an urban farm. But with so much diesel being brought into the neighborhood, these initiatives would do little to protect the health of residents or children attending daycares, schools, mosques, and churches.

Frey has refused to agree to any enforceable limits on the number of diesel vehicles, or guarantee meaningful numbers of electric vehicles. Instead the city has made vague statements about accelerated electrification over many years and a city-wide “Green Fleet” policy.

Article continues after advertisement

When I baby proofed our home, I didn’t tell my spouse that “at some point in the next several years, I’ll anchor this dresser to the wall.” When your child’s health is at stake, you do whatever you can to ensure they’re safe right then and there.

Under the mayor’s plan, a generation of children will grow up in Phillips with substantially worse health and educational outcomes.

If the mayor was serious about climate justice, he could start by committing to no new diesel vehicles in Phillips. The children of Phillips cannot afford another decade of toxic pollution.

Matt Plummer is a stay-at-home parent living on the western edge of Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood.