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ME Electmetal fined $11,000

ME Electmetal faces more than $11,000 in fines related to its operation of a foundry in Gary-New Duluth, courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry's Occupational Safety and Health Division.

ME Electmetal faces more than $11,000 in fines related to its operation of a foundry in Gary-New Duluth, courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry's Occupational Safety and Health Division.

Inspectors faulted the company for failing to adequately protect workers from exposure to lead (a neurotoxin) and silica dust, which can cause lung damage. The state also cited the company for its lack of an adequate respiratory protection program, plus its failure to properly monitor workers' lead exposure and inform all exposed employees of the associated risks. The foundry also was fined for allegedly failing to develop and use proper lockout/tagout procedures for work under its Whiting Furnace No. 1 and below its slag pit.

In accordance with the law, the reported violations were posted at ME. The company has 20 days from its receipt of the citations, dated April 9, to either pay the assessed fines or to contest the findings.

James Honerman, a spokesman for the Occupational Safety and Health Division, said he could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

"We intend to fully cooperate with OSHA," said Bill Grau, general manager of ME Electmetal's Gary-New Duluth plant.

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He said his staff has not yet had time to fully review and evaluate the citations, so it was too soon to tell whether the company would contest them. But he believes the issues identified can readily be resolved and characterized them as "all relatively minor stuff."

"We run a safe plant," Grau said.

Bruce Lotti, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 1028 and a 23-year employee of the foundry, fears the company and many young workers are not taking the dangers of exposure at the foundry seriously enough.

"It's not like getting hit in the head with a brick," he said. "This stuff takes time before it manifests itself as a health problem, but it will."

Lotti contends work conditions at the foundry have deteriorated in recent years.

PETER PASSI covers business and development. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 279-5526 or by e-mail at ppassi@duluthnews.com .

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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