A Minneapolis iron foundry that has been under federal investigation for polluting its neighborhood now faces $15,300 in fines for hazards inside its building — including overexposing workers to silica and carbon monoxide.

The violations were issued in early March but announced Tuesday morning by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The agency said the violations include failing to train workers on potential hazards, failing to give them baseline medical examinations within 30 days of assignment and not protecting workers from crystallized silica and carbon monoxide.

A spokesman for Smith Foundry released a statement Tuesday that the company had already made "substantial improvements" related to the issues that had been identified by Minnesota OSHA. "We are confident that we have adequately addressed the concerns and we look forward to working with MNOSHA and our union to resolve the matter," the statement read.

But Susan Arnold, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota and director of the Midwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety, said the recent findings from OSHA indicate little has changed at the foundry since she participated in a worker safety audit there 16 years ago.

"The conditions are really egregious," Arnold said.

The investigation into workplace safety at Smith began on Dec. 4, 2023, and is still open. OSHA notes on the page listing the penalties that "violations may be added or deleted." All seven of the penalties are being contested by the foundry.

Breathing in silica raises the risk of developing silicosis, which OSHA describes as "an incurable lung disease that can lead to disability and death." Inhaling the substance also raises the risk of lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD and kidney disease, according to the agency.

Breathing carbon monoxide can cause a host of problems, including nausea, dizziness, weakness and disorientation, according to the EPA.

Smith has been at the center of public scrutiny and neighborhood anger since last year, when it was revealed that the EPA had found multiple alleged pollution violations at the site after a surprise inspection — including a black dust that built up on surfaces throughout the facility. In February, EPA official Brian Dickens said that the facility and the agency were working toward a settlement for the case, but that Smith was not yet compliant.

That dust is from a silica-based material the company uses to mold liquid iron, a common method in iron castings. This black sand is shaken off of completed castings, and swept and stored in piles around the facility, which a Star Tribune reporter observed in a visit to Smith in December.

Arnold said crystalline silica floats into the air very easily, and that if there's visible, uncontained dust or sand, it's an indication that the silica in the air is above OSHA's safe limit. The ideal solution would be to enclose every area where the sand is used, and install ventilation and filtration.

"The kinds of changes that would have to go into a 100-year-old building to retrofit it, to control these hazards, adequately or sufficiently, would be complex," Arnold said. "It would be very expensive."

Arnold added that worker protection should include well-fitted N-95 masks or even more protective breathing gear. OSHA's citation document indicates that Smith did require employees to wear various types of respirators, but that it did not make sure the respirators fit new employees.

During public meetings in the East Phillips neighborhood where Smith has operated for roughly a century, neighbors have expressed concern for their own health, but also for the health of people who work at the facility. One woman said during a November meeting that her father had previously worked at the foundry; he would come home and cough up black material, she said.

That was under a previous owner. Zynik Capital, a Canadian firm, bought the foundry in December 2022, and has said it relies, in part, on the neighborhood for many of its workers.

Some neighbors and activist groups have called for the foundry to be shut down entirely.