We were asked recently if “we felt confident things would be different with Water Gremlin moving forward, based on a pending new permit and based on new leadership?” Our answer was “No”.
First, a recap. In March of 2019, the White Bear area learned that for over 17 years, Water Gremlin released highly excessive levels of TCE into the air. For example, in 2018, Water Gremlin released 120 tons into the air, against a permit of 10 tons.. TCE is a now-banned chemical that causes cancer, auto-immune disease and skin and respiratory issues. When this over exceedance was discovered, Water Gremlin agreed to pull back on their production (and thus emissions) until regulatory could sort through years of missing data. Instead, Water Gremlin ramped up production, releasing some of the highest amounts of pollution during the fall and winter of 2018. (See March 2019 stipulation agreement, page 11). Since March of 2019, many other legacy issues were uncovered at Water Gremlin and many commitments were made by regulatory agencies, along with state and county governments. (See the findings from a rare Office of the Legislative Auditor Report on Water Gremlin and the MPCA, completed in Feb of 2021.)
Fast forward to today.
We know the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is paying way more attention to Water Gremlin and we have reason to believe this will be one of the most tightly constructed and monitored permits in Minnesota. We understand the air emission models Water Gremlin are basing their air permit request on have been critically assessed and there have been many revisions and questions between the MPCA and Water Gremlin. We believe the permit, once issued for public comment, will include strict monitoring and community accountability.
We know Water Gremlin has moved one production line to a new UV coating process and they have received approval from their parent company to covert more lines to this new process. We understand this process is a green(er) process. The conversion of these lines to a new process is most likely a good thing in that it reduces the usage of tDCE, the chemical Water Gremlin replaced TCE with and, a chemical that also has many health concerns.
While we see positives such as what’s outlined above, we remain on active alert.
The new UV technology is an emerging technology and will cause more particulate matter (both micro sized and larger sized) to be emitted into the air we breathe. Particulate matter is an The new UV technology is an emerging technology and will cause more particulate matter (both micro sized and larger sized) to be emitted into the air we breathe. Regulation of particulate matter regulation been evolving over the past decades due concerns with lung damage and more.
Also, we see Water Gremlin rewriting the past. Just flip through media coverage over the past few years. (www.wbanccg.org has a summary of all coverage.) Some of the most recent examples from Water Gremlin discount their role and the enormity of the issues. In one instance, they talk about the lead issue in a way that makes it sound as though they were never called a public health nuisance by the judge and accountable for the high levels of lead found in workers homes, cars, blood and children. In other, quotes from Water Gremlin leadership suggest tDCE was highly recommended by MnTap as an alternative to TCE, when in fact MnTap has consistently said tDCE was a least desirable alternative.
Finally, the permit is still in progress and delayed yet again. Now it’s expected in April for community comment. Keep in mind, this company has been regulated since March of 2019 by just a Stipulation Agreement and a minor permit amendment. This community was told from Day 1 that a Stipulation Agreement was not meant to guide the long term operations. And, we were led to believe that a permit would be issued in October of 2019, December of 2019, January of 2020, March of 2020 and so on and so on. Now, it is supposed to be coming out for public comment in April of 2022.
This company is seemingly continuing a culture of not accepting accountability for community and environmental well-being. They seem to continue a culture that for decades took advantage of light oversight in everything from air emissions, hazardous waste management, worker safety, community health and more. And, based on what we are seeing from their leadership (former and current) we haven’t seen signs that that culture has changed. We have heard from those inside the plant that they are “waiting for the community to get tired and leave them alone.”
So, yes. We are actively involved. And, yes, we’re still waiting for Water Gremlin to accept meaningful accountability for the harm that they have caused the community. To learn more, go to our website and sign up for the next virtual community meeting on February 17, 2022.