New nonprofit maintains watchdog role

NCCG spokeswoman Sherry Hastings introduced Rep. Ami Wazlawik, who told residents area legislators are working to craft a bill that gives a TCE ban “more teeth.”

WHITE BEAR LAKE — The recently formed nonprofit Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group continues to watchdog both Water Gremlin and state legislation regulating a toxic chemical no longer used at the plant on Otter Lake Road.

Founded by five women who live near Water Gremlin, the citizens group — or NCCG — holds bi-weekly meetings at City Hall to discuss the pollution issue, pending legislation and state agency updates. Spokesperson Sherry Hastings, a commercial Realtor who grew up in White Bear Lake, said the group has four areas of focus:

• Banning trichloroethylene (TCE) statewide.

• Keeping Water Gremlin accountable by tracking its stipulation agreement with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to make sure it is followed.

• Understand the toxicity of FluoSolv WS, the chemical replacing TCE at Water Gremlin.

• Keeping Water Gremlin from expanding until NCCG is assured the company is not polluting.

Hastings and members of the board, Sheri Smith, Leigh Thiel, Kelly Tapkan and Catherine Sullivan, have met with Attorney General Keith Ellison to make sure the state’s top attorney is aware of the situation and to learn if the toxic emissions are a criminal offense. They have also met with a member of the governor’s environmental staff to ask for support of legislation. All live within the 1.5-mile radius of Water Gremlin impacted, according to MPCA, by toxic emissions of TCE.

On April 22, representatives from MPCA and MDH attended a NCCG meeting to provide an update on air monitoring results (see accompanying story) and answer questions.

“Overall sentiment from attendees is there is no trust in how Water Gremlin does business,” Thiel said.

“No one understands why they have done things so wrong for so long. Residents continue to be highly concerned about health impacts of the TCE overexposure.”

MPCA representative Jeff Smith, director of the agency’s industrial division, told the group he and the commissioner are working closely with the governor’s office. “They are interested in knowing we are serving you,” he said.

Added Smith, “This should not have happened (the TCE emissions). It could have and should have been prevented.”

MPCA has made five or six “hardcore, unannounced inspections” of Water Gremlin in the last few months, according to Smith. “It’s important for the company to understand how serious the community feels about ongoing compliance and how scared and angry you are,” he stated. “I personally feel that way myself. We take this very personally.”

Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) representative Jim Kelly assured those attending the NCCG meeting that the MDH will continue to work with MPCA. “We will help people understand what we know and don’t know about these chemicals. We also take these situations seriously and want to see this rectified.”

For more information on the NCCG and how to get involved, visit its newly launched website: wbanccg.org

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