Health concerns from the past and for the future.

PART ONE: In May of 2019, Water Gremlin launched a site to educate the community on their pollution control fines and what they were doing for the future. This is the first in a series of NCCG responses to their Frequently Asked Questions.

 From Water Gremlin: 
Q: Am I safe living near Water Gremlin?
A: Water Gremlin has a comprehensive system to monitor its emissions, with independent laboratory results reported directly to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). We performed an environmental review of the exterior of our facility in June 2018 and reviewed all other aspects of our operations in November 2018. We conducted an additional review in February 2019 after we discontinued our use of Trichloroethylene (TCE).

There’s more to the safety of residents beyond what’s stated above; and that’s why the community is so actively monitoring Water Gremlin’s adherence to the Stipulation Agreement.

The best predictor for the future is past behavior.  Water Gremlin has violated their permit and polluted our neighborhood and environment. Their negligent actions have put citizens at serious risk for more than 17 years.  2018 was the worst of all, with documented TCE emissions at 1,000 percent over permitted levels.  (See page 11 of the Stipulation Agreement.)

The MPCA is holding Water Gremlin to a much stricter standard than other companies. As you read the Stipulation Agreement–you’ll see requirements for ongoing monitoring of VOCs in the air and for Water Gremlin to provide documentation around purchases and use of DCE.  This is just one of many requirements and, while these are not common requirements for permits, the MPCA included them to help protect the surrounding neighborhood and environment.

After many years of documented and excessive violations, and given Water Gremlin’s characterization of the new product, DCE,  as “non-hazardous” many in the community distrust Water Gremlin and feel their culture is one that lacks respect for the materials they are using. 

(DCE is not well studied and as such, is not classified as a “Hazardous Air Pollutant” by the EPA.) This does not mean the substance is not a hazard to human health. In fact, DCE is listed on the TURI (Toxics Use Reduction Institute) list of toxic or hazardous substances. And, it is stated that:  1,2-Dichloroethane is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in experimental animals.)

Our community also has concerns about the past pollution, the impact on citizen and worker health and impact on our environment.  It’s good news that the Stipulation Agreement requires a Work Plan to determine the extent of environmental damage done on the Water Gremlin property. This is the first step towards understanding the spread of their pollution. (The Work Plan was approved by the MPCA in late May 2019, and outlines how environmental conditions and human safety at the plant will be evaluated.)

Members of the community are diligently reviewing the results of current air emissions (DCE) coming out of Water Gremlin.  These results are posted on the MPCA website.  We are also monitoring commitments made in the Work Plan that was submitted by Water Gremlin, approved by MPCA and released to the public in May 2019. 

Finally, NCCG is working closely with independent scientists to ensure we have credible, third party experts helping to advise the community on this situation (both past and present).  We are also working with experts to understand these details in layman’s terms. Because the highly technical and legal jargon can be intimidating and keeps residents from fully understanding what is, quite literally, in their backyard.

From Water Gremlin: 
Q: Have any neighbors been impacted by TCE emissions from Water Gremlin?
A: As of April 2019, the MPCA’s FAQ page about Water Gremlin stated that there was “no information indicating anyone has become sick as a result of TCE exposure related to Water Gremlin emissions.”

This is an FAQ that was on their site until at least May 18 2019 and then was pulled down after a White Bear area citizen raised it as an issue to the MPCA/MDH and the regulatory groups talked with Water Gremlin. Here’s why the White Bear area citizen raised it as a serious concern to the MPCA and MDH. 

  1. What the MDH has said, on the record, is “…can we say that John Smith’s cancer was caused by Water Gremlin emissions? No. But we can’t say it wasn’t either.”  (See WCCO story from May 14, 2019.)
  2. Area residents have made public statements to the MDH and MPCA regarding those who are battling cancer and other disease. Some of the information shared has been unusual in terms of numbers of people impacted in a single family and the proximity to the plant. In addition to cancer, there are other potential health impacts from excessive TCE exposure, including autoimmune diseases and skin rashes, which local families have reportedly experienced. WCCO aired a feature profiling several individuals who are afraid that their cancer illness was caused by excessive Water Gremlin pollution. 
  3. While the MDH/MPCA did state that there was no increased incidence of cancer or birth defects in the White Bear area compared to cancer levels in the 7-county metro area, there is considerable debate about the methodology. See NCCG blog post, dated May 16, about the real challenges with the MN Cancer Database
  4. MDH assessments have contradicted state sponsored experts in the past. Most notable was the challenge from former Attorney General, Lori Swanson. From the Star Tribune:
    “The Minnesota Department of Health said Wednesday it has found no clusters of cancer, premature births or low-birthweight babies in parts of Washington County where groundwater was contaminated years ago by a 3M Co. chemical.  The review, prompted by residents’ concerns, flatly contradicts the conclusions of an expert hired by state Attorney General Lori Swanson and comes just days before the start of a long-awaited trial between the state and 3M.”
    This story made international news, including in the Sydney Morning Herald.

All referenced FAQs from Water Gremlin are copied and pasted directly from their website as of June 14, 2019. Our responses based on  facts (cited) and our point-of-view (POV) . Our POV is based on an assessment of facts, advice from independent third-party experts and our own experiences.

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