March 1, 2020. One year ago today, our community learned about extensive problems at the Water Gremlin facility in White Bear Township. We had received a few notifications from the MPCA about TCE pollution and thought it was something that had been going on for a few months. We were concerned. Never did we imagine we would be learning out about 15+ years of highly excessive TCE emissions. How excessive? In 2018 alone, Water Gremlin SELF REPORTED emissions 120 tons of TCE into the air; against a permit of 10 tons per year.
Over the next year, the community would learn about other serious issues – like take-home lead that has caused elevated lead in blood for many children of employees. Or, the replacement chemical tDCE not being controlled and within weeks polluting the ground. And, we would learn about how the various layers of government (state, local, county and regulatory) work.
Below is an overview of the 100s of pieces of media coverage from the past year. It’s listed most current to oldest. Start from the bottom and read up to watch the story unfold from our perspective. Or, to get caught up on the most current news, read from top to bottom.
“There was always a sweet smell,” Burke recalled, a smell he now knows was TCE. As an adolescent, Burke learned that he likely would die before the age of 30 if he didn’t have open heart surgery to fix a congenital hole in his heart.
Introduction of the legislation, including testimony from NCCA and citizens.
What can you do? Here’s an easy way to ask your local and state elected officials to ban TCE.
Proposed House Legislation 2/13/2020: “What happened to the White Bear area community was significant and it was significantly wrong and if we can find some change that can help protect others as a result of it then that can be a good thing,”
WCCO: Jan 31, 2020: The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has spent the past year, assessing the amount of TCE generated by businesses across the state. It’s latest findings point to 8 facilities, that had substantial emissions of the chemical, Reg Chapman reports
MCPA allows Water Gremlin to begin using the
VOC – tDCE, again.
MPCA Administrative Order dated 1/17/2020, outlining provisions for Water Gremlin to begin operating with VOCS.
Statement from NCCG regarding the 1/17/2020 action
It’s been a year. If you just want to refresh your memory on everything that’s happened – or if you want to get up-to-speed quickly, here are two resources for you. 1) A timeline of coverage from our community paper. (Thank you Deb for covering all sides of this story.) White Bear Press 2019 year in review. 2) A Reporter’s Notebook assembled by WCCO and Jennifer Mayerle. Thank you WCCO for investing so much time exploring the various issues being brought to light as a result of the first Stipulation Agreement back in March of 2019.
Fires at Water Gremlin
Since June of 2019 there have been 3 known fires at Water Gremlin. Emergency Services were called for the June fire. They were not called for fires that happened on December 20th and December 27. Tipsters reported the December fires as they were happening. News crews were able to get from Minneapolis to White Bear in time to capture significant footage from the 12/27 fire.
The MPCA shared with NCCG on Jan 10 that Water Gremlin felt the December were easy to control themselves. The fire on 12/20 was put out in a matter of minutes, according to what Water Gremlin reported to the MPCA. The morning fire on 12/27 reignited in the afternoon, in the ventilation system. That subsequent fire was also controlled solely by Water Gremlin, with no notification to emergency services.
The MPCA shared with NCCG that Water Gremlin planned to notify the fire dept. of fires in the future, even if they felt they did not need emergency support. Water Gremlin also is cleaning areas of their facility where cottonwood pollen and other dust has collected over the years.
December 23, 2019 Court Hearing Update
Water Gremlin was in court regarding the notification of workers that their homes would be inspected/cleaned for take-home lead contamination. Click here for a summary of the hearing. As a result of the hearing, notices were officially sent out. And, Water Gremlin paid a $5M bond, in the event that the courts do hold them responsible for cleaning for workers homes. It’s important to note that these workers (past and current) do not include the 920 contract workers from the past 2 years.
December 4, 2019 Court Hearing Updates
White Bear Press: Today (Nov. 22), Judge Leonardo Castro affirmed the state’s authority and actions to address the public health threat of lead poisoning and protect children. He provided clear and detailed orders regarding steps Water Gremlin must put into place in the short-term and the need for Water Gremlin to implement a permanent solution to better protect the health and safety of its workers and their families.
Pioneer Press: Water Gremlin Says It’s Stopped Lead Migration Problem
NCCG Response to Water Gremlin’s Statement: Why did it take extensive action by the state and the community to “implement a clean exit strategy” and “stop the lead migration problem?” Why didn’t this happen a year ago, two years ago, 15 years ago? Do we believe this is the end of the problem? No. Water Gremlin has yet to prove to the community that they can operate safely, without heavy, expensive, taxpayer funded regulatory oversight.
Walmart Stops Selling Water Gremlin lead sinkers.
Walmart did not provide a reason. But, the environmental issues that Water Gremlin has had for the past 17+ years, including the recent documentation of 24 children with elevated levels is presumed to be the reason why. See details on Walmart’s environmental policy here.
Governor Walz’s statement on Water Gremlin. 10/28/19
…“This is heartbreaking. It is unacceptable. And it is not the first time Water Gremlin has jeopardized the health of Minnesotans.”….
Below are links to a collection of news stories regarding the state shutting down Water Gremlin do to severely elevated levels of lead being found in 12 children of workers. You’ll also find coverage of the court hearings.
This is just a sampling of stories. Google for more coverage by media including the White Bear Press, WCCO, MPR, Kare 11, Fox 9, KSTP 5, the Pioneer Press and The Star Tribune.
WCCO: Water Gremlin Ordered To Temporarily Cease Operations Following Investigation
WCCO: Group Of Water Gremlin Employees Call On Governor To Reopen Plant
WCCO: ‘Public Health Nuisance’: Water Gremlin In Court Over Lead Concerns
White Bear Press: State offered free lead testing, employment services to Water Gremlin workers
WCCO: Water Gremlin Ordered To Remain Closed Until At Least The Weekend
White Bear Press: Representatives respond to state order to shut down Water Gremlin
White Bear Press: District court judge allows conditional restart for Water Gremlin
White Bear Press: Legislators rank TCE ban high on priority list
MPR: State hits Water Gremlin over new hazardous waste violations
Pioneer Press: Officials hit Water Gremlin — again — with new round of pollution charges
Star Tribune: Minnesota’s showdown with Water Gremlin intensifies. As cleanup of lead contamination continues, regulators accuse manufacturer of multiple pollution violations.
As broken by WCCO – stories about the take-home lead contamination:
Workers At Twin Cities Plant May Have Exposed Families To Lead, 10/21/19
12 Kids Of Parents Who Worked At Water Gremlin Have High Lead Levels, 10/28/19
Conservation Minnesota hosted the Oct. 26 forum at the Hanifl Performing Arts Center. Its mission, said Policy Director Nels Paulsen, is to remove toxic chemicals from the environment. Paulsen moderated the panel discussion, noting that a year ago, “We didn’t expect to be here. We didn’t know about this, but now we do and we’re going to do something about it.”White Bear Press, November 6, 2019
Township’s Position on Water Gremlin
…”The Board has been dismayed, to say the least, at Water Gremlin’s failure to grasp the many opportunities it has been given to comply since the beginning of the year.
At this point, the Board will continue to observe the situation and defer to the rightful authority, the MPCA, as the agency has preemptive authority over the Township in these matters. If there is a responsibility that falls upon the Township as directed by the MPCA, we will act accordingly.“
Coverage on the responses to Senator Chamberlain’s requests of various state, county and legal agencies to investigate Water Gremlin.
State Legislative Auditor will investigate MPCA for it’s handling of Water Gremlin Pollution
Ramsey County Attorney to review concerns around Water Gremlin
Legislative auditor to investigate MPCA’s role in Water Gremlin controversy
Jennifer Mayerle with WCCO broke this news on Monday, August 26th. Water Gremlin attempted to move tDCE coating production line move to Wisconsin.
Check out this link to see how the Wisconsin company responded, once they learned more.
Senator Roger Chamberlain requests investigation into Water Gremlin and, into how the MPCA has handled this issue.
Call on Ramsey County Attorney and Legislative Audit to investigate.
Call on Gov. Walz, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Sheriff Fletcher to investigate.
The White Bear Press has written many articles on the Water Gremlin issue. Here are links to the articles from the last couple of weeks. (Posted 9/2/19).
Water Gremlin Stands it’s Contaminated Ground (Regarding refusal to voluntarily shut down.)
Water Gremlin to voluntarily discontinue tDCE Use (Article about Water Gremlin agreeing to shut down operations temporarily.)
Water Gremlin Ordered to Stop Coating Operations (Story about the MPCA shut down of Water Gremlin through a rarely used Administrative Order process.)
Tuesday, August 27, the MPCA hosted a community meeting in White Bear Lake to share the recent discoveries of inadequate pollution control equipment to the community. A variety of media were present and covered the story. Key take-aways included:
* The MPCA having no confidence of the ability of Water Gremlin to control tDCE in the plant.
* A concerning amount of tDCE in the soil, especially after just 4 months of operation.
* A lack of trust by both the community and the MPCA, compounded after Water Gremlin held on to reports showing ground contamination for 40 days, instead of reporting in 48 hours. (And, they continued to operate, as well as refused to shut down voluntarily when asked by the MPCA to do so on Thursday, August 15.)
FOX 9 COVERAGE:
KSTP, CHANNEL 5 COVERAGE
STAR TRIBUNE COVERAGE
Also see WCCO for ongoing, regular stories on this issue.
TCE pollution is not just a White Bear issue. It is happening across the state of MN and across the country.
“University of California San Francisco scientist Veena Singla said that when it comes to chemicals like TCE, there are no safe levels of exposure.”….
“We know it can cause cancer by any route of exposure,” University of California San Francisco scientist Veena Singla said. “So what that means is whether you breathe it in, whether you drink it in contaminated water… we’re concerned about all those exposures.”
“…I think no company wants to be in a situation like Water Gremlin,” Smith said. Smith said the MPCA relied on accurate reports, which they didn’t get– and is firm in saying the company should’ve known right away. “Their obligation is to know. At all levels of the organization, from the CEO down to the operational person,” Smith said.Thanks WCCO and Jennifer Mayerle for continuing to shed light on what happened in the White Bear area. It can happen anywhere in MN. WCCO story – aired on June 25, 2019
In addition to TCE risk being real, lead is also an issue. ...3.6% of kids of Water Gremlin employees had an elevated blood lead level. “That’s concerning all the way around,” Kelly said. “That reflects some of their work practices needed or need to be improved to try to prevent that sort of thing.” WCCO & Jennifer Mayerle on June 17, 2019
An important issue we tracked and worked on this legislative session at Conservation Minnesota was the bipartisan proposal to ban the industrial solvent trichloroethylene, more commonly known as TCE.
“When something significant happens to your community like this … it’s important to step up to the plate and make sure that you’re living in a safe place, and you’re doing your part to make sure that that happens,” Thanks WCCO for helping to amplify our voice.
“We bought the house of our dreams on Goose Lake and we can’t even open the doors because we’re afraid.”
NCCG was a key community group behind this legislation and we worked in partnership with our MN Senators and Representatives from both parties. We also worked very closely with the MPCA and the MDH to craft legislation that would meet their requirements and help satisfy business concerns. Our citizen voice, that was being heard and respected, was silenced in closed door conference committee; due to a heavy push by the Chamber and by lobbyists for industry.
WCCO has been investigating the Water Gremlin story. Click here for stories of citizen health concerns. We still have many questions about what actually happened and the impact to our community.
House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division 5/23/19 public session. Listen to Commissioner Bishop at the 1hr, 7 min mark. She pledges support for our community, even though the MPCA, Governor and others ultimately did not support the bills they worked with the community to craft. At the 1.11 mark, you’ll hear Representative Lee discuss concerns he has about workers at Water Gremlin. And, finally, at the 1:28 mark, you’ll hear the NCCG letter read on our behalf. If you have time, skip over to 1:32 and hear a citizen talk about mining. (He’s pretty great and entertaining!!)
Senator Chuck Wiger
“…This not only impacts our 3 districts, this impacts all of MN, the impact of TCE. …These are people involuntary who have been exposed.”
“This was a home run. This was an easy one for use….To say that we can’t do this because of the process means that the process isn’t working. …One of the purest ways as a Senator that I enjoy seeing legislation coming around is when it is inspired by citizens getting together and activating. And, asking for some change.”Senator Isaacson, May 24, 2019
“…and now we have a body unwilling to act and we are going to hide behind the process. …No reasonable person looking at this situation should say “hey, let’s be on the side of TCE here. …Nobody thinks that’s a good idea.”
“…the only group I know who doesn’t like this is the Chamber.”
MN was very close to being the first state to ban TCE, a chemical that is on the top 10 list currently being investigated by the EPA. See letter to editor here for more.
To learn a bit more about NCCG and how we were formed, check out this article from the White Bear Press.
“Water Gremlin Shuts Down Production After Violating Air Quality Permit in White Bear Township” is an early story from Fox 9. This was before the community understood how many years this had been going on and the extent of pollution.
White Bear Press coverage of the first community meeting. The community found out after this meeting that MPCA and Water Gremlin were very close to finalizing the stipulation agreement, with the details on the extent of pollution. However, this was not shared until March 1.
To learn more about the Water Gremlin exposure issue from the NCCG community perspective, click here for a series of articles summarizing our findings and research.