WHITE BEAR TOWNSHIP — The release of excess trichlororethylene (TCE) into the air by Water Gremlin may have harmed people’s health. 

That conclusion and more was released in a draft Public Health Assessment (PHA) last week from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), whose role is to evaluate health risks at sites where chemicals have been released into the environment.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) discovered in early 2019 that Water Gremlin had been spewing levels of TCE into the air for years at levels significantly higher than the state allowed. Use of the toxic chemical by the company halted in 2019, which was followed by legislation that bans most permitted uses of TCE. The ban becomes effective June 2022.

The 89-page PHA, “which is not a health study,” listed seven main conclusions. Among them:  

1) past exposures to TCE in air near the facility may have harmed some people’s health; 2) past exposures may have been sufficient “to increase the risk of health effects in a small number of the most exposed individuals,” and 3) past or current use of trans-1,2-dichloroethylene (an alternative to TCE used by Water Gremlin) and lead air emissions are not expected to harm people’s health in the surrounding community. Lead exposure, however, may have harmed the health of workers and their families, according to the assessment. 

People living in neighborhoods around the manufacturer are being asked to review the draft PHA, identify issues that are missing, incorrect or unclear, and share comments by June 9, 2022. Comments can be submitted by email at health.hazard@state.mn.us or, for other options, call 651-201-4897. 

A six-point action plan that describes steps the health department will take to protect the future health of the community is included in the draft. The department also promises to continue to review new data and information on the contamination and share any potential health concerns with the community. 

To read the document, go to tinyurl.com/25vvm3ea or search Water Gremlin at health.state.mn.us.

It should also be noted that at this time, MPCA is continuing to develop a new air permit for the township facility. The purpose of the new permit is to limit emissions to meet environmental regulations and be protective of human health.  

Water Gremlin watchdogs, the Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group (NCCG), issued this statement following release of the PHA: “The list of wrongs done by Water Gremlin to the workers and community is long and it is challenging for anyone, including the MDH, to have a comprehensive list of possible harms. 

“We know TCE exposure was, for many years, far above health-based values and we have evidence of more people being impacted by skin, auto-immune and respiratory issues (plus cancer) than what is suggested as part of this report. We are also surprised that the extent of child-exposure to take-home lead (more than 20 children) was absent from this report. 

“NCCG will be providing comments for the official record so if something like this is ever done again by Water Gremlin, our voice is remembered.” 

 

— Debra Neutkens

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