MINNEAPOLIS — Fed up with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) failure to comply to requests for public information on Water Gremlin, attorney Dean Salita filed a lawsuit Aug. 20 in Hennepin County District Court.
The personal injury lawyer, with the Minnetonka law team of Schmidt & Salita, has been waiting since May for MPCA to comply with a data practices request for records regarding the plant’s emissions and the agency’s attempts to regulate them.
“It’s time to get information to the public,” Salita said. “Nothing is the same as what MPCA told the public months ago. It continues to be the same old, same old (rhetoric), and it’s ridiculous.”
The law firm is representing about 150 people living or working near Water Gremlin who were exposed to trichloroethylene (TCE) levels that exceeded the state’s permitted amount. TCE is a hazardous chemical used by Water Gremlin to degrease battery terminals. Elevated levels may increase risk of certain types of cancers and birth defects. The company agreed to discontinue its use in a stipulation agreement signed March 1.
In the complaint, Salita contends that MPCA “inexplicably closed out” his request mid-May without providing “anywhere close to all the responsive public records.”
Added Salita, “MPCA has failed to provide them despite the important public health and public interest concerns attendant to Water Gremlin’s toxic emissions.”
The Minnesota Department of Health, in contrast, provided requested records in a much shorter time period, he said.
The law firm requested all public records regarding any and all investigations, testing and sampling of soil, air or water relating to Water Gremlin; all correspondence with the company, all issued permits and all records sent to other regulators about Water Gremlin.
Salita also hired a big gun, former state attorney general Lori Swanson, to assist in obtaining the documentation. Swanson’s firm, Swanson Hatch P.A., sent a letter May 28 to the MPCA commissioner requesting records not provided to Schmidt and Salita, exceedances since the stipulation agreement, emails to and from Jeff Smith, industrial division director, after Jan. 15 and communications with the health department about Water Gremlin. Swanson gave MPCA a June 11 deadline.
To date, the agency has not provided the documents.
MPCA’s Director of Communications Darin Broton issued this statement: “The MPCA embraces an open and transparent process where the public has access to information on its permitting and enforcement decisions. The agency takes the allegation seriously and is reviewing this matter. The MPCA receives hundreds of data practices requests each month, and is still compiling information for several of these requests regarding Water Gremlin. The MPCA released more than 6,000 pages of Water Gremlin documents to parties last week.”
Salita and Swanson are asking the court to compel MPCA to comply with the data practices request. They are also asking for an award of fees and costs.
Gem Lake resident Kerri Luecke accompanied Salita to the county courthouse to file the suit. She was one of the first to talk to Salita after news broke of the TCE emissions. Luecke and her family lived within a quarter mile of Water Gremlin for 24 years.
“The MPCA and Department of Health tell us there’s nothing to worry about,” Luecke said. “Yet the settlement with Water Gremlin was the second largest in state history. Nothing to worry about? What are they not telling us?”
Luecke said she beat the odds after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin cancer and her daughter suffers from epileptic seizures. A son has asthma. “We never put two and two together until this came out. It’s scary.”