NEW ULM - The New Ulm City Council ordered city officials on Tuesday to investigate New Ulm Steel and Recycling for any code violations with its new metal shredder machine.
The City has received numerous complaints about the shredder over excessive noise, vibration and explosions when the machine is running. City officials requested the investigation after responding to three major explosions resulting from normal operations in just a few months. They found metal material had sprayed from the machine into surrounding properties and high vibration and noise levels past property lines. It was not determined if the ejected materials resulted from normal operations or the explosions.
The machine, which was installed in January, can shred anything from a toaster to several school buses, with a maximum capacity of 100 tons per hour. The machine sifts through shredded material to separate ferrous and non-ferrous metals, which are then sold in bulk.
New Ulm Steel representatives did not speak during Tuesday's Council meeting and stated they were unaware of the city action request when asked on Monday.
The shredder reportedly has several frequent, smaller explosions occur as part of its normal operations. The explosions apparently do not damage the machine.
Judy Fischer, a day-care provider whose home is just south of New Ulm Steel, spoke to the Council about her concerns regarding the shredder. She said the vibrations are a major nuisance and the noise can become intense enough to prevent a child six feet away from hearing her. She said that during the April 25 major explosion, the blast waves were enough to shake her house, knock pictures off the wall and terrify her day-care children for several days. She expressed serious concerns about the smoke clouds from the explosion. She said they could put toxic material into the air, which the children could breathe in.
"My [day-care] parents are very worried. I'm very worried it could be a public safety hazard," said Fischer, "People told their children being dropped off ... 'Run to Judy's front door if the machine is running.'"
New Ulm Building Inspector Dave Christian said the City has spoken with New Ulm Steel. The business has installed shielding that prevents material from flying out while also reducing the noise of shredding. It is also considering installing a sprinkling system to run water over the material being shredded, thus preventing sparks.
However, Christian said, there remains the concern that regular shredding operations are enough to violate noise and vibrations limits. City codes require muffling of objectionable noise, prevention of vibrations across other property lines exceeding three minutes in any given hour and taking reasonable precautions against fire or explosion hazards.
The Council's order requires New Ulm Steel to hire the firm IEA, Inc. to test the levels of noise and vibrations when the machine is operating at full capacity. New Ulm Steel will cover the entire $3,400 cost if violations are determined, but it will be able to split the cost with the City if no violation is determined.
The results of the tests by IEA will be presented to the council in about a month.
There are no fines or penalties for the code violations in this incident. Instead, the City can demand the implementation of a plan to remedy violations or order actions. If New Ulm Steel decided not to comply, then the City could possibly take legal action.
The testing ordered Tuesday only deals with noise and vibrations crossing into other properties. Further actions or orders for testing the explosions may be taken up at a later time.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)