ST. PAUL — Area legislators continue to tweak a bill that will divvy up a multi-million dollar pie. 

They're asking for a $2.25 million appropriation that is exactly half the civil penalty paid by Water Gremlin in the settlement agreement with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).  

Chief authors Sen. Roger Chamberlain and Rep. Ami Wazlawik, who represent constituents living within a 1.5-mile radius of the White Bear Township plant, are proposing the money go into a trichloroethylene (TCE) Emission Response Account that benefits those impacted by the chemical release. 

The legislation, SF2307 and HF2368, directs the MPCA commissioner to work with stakeholders to identify and recommend projects funded through the account. Stakeholders include elected officials from Gem Lake, White Bear Lake, White Bear Township and four individuals appointed by the Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group (NCCG). 

Among the items proposed for funding: 

• A health risk assessment. Money from the environmental fund will be used to conduct a review of health issues potentially related to TCE exposure. A report would be due Jan. 15, 2020 to members of the House and Senate. For budgetary purposes, $400,000 was estimated for this project.

• Testing of water and sediments. MPCA would collect water samples from all water within two miles of Water Gremlin and test for TCE, lead and arsenic. $300,000 was budgeted.

• Testing of soil. The agency would collect soil samples in a two-mile perimeter and test for TCE, lead and arsenic. $300,000 is budgeted. 

• Cumulative air impact analysis. Cumulative air impacts would be analyzed within two miles of the plant. The analysis includes impact information from sources regulated for TCE, Fluosolv or any other hazardous air pollutants, to address the cumulative impact on human health. $200,000 is budgeted.

• Ambient air testing. At least three ambient air monitors will be located within one mile of Water Gremlin, one of them upwind for five years to collect samples of hazardous air pollutants, volatile organic compounds and lead. $900,000 is budgeted. 

• Identifying alternatives to TCE. The stakeholders will work with MNTap or another independent, qualified organization to research the safety and effectiveness of TCE replacements. $50,000 is budgeted. 

A request was also made by Sen. Chuck Wiger to add language that ensures prompt notification of hazardous exposure in the future. The senator was upset when MPCA refused to release certain information from the agency's investigation prior to the settlement. 

The NCCG has been active in helping to craft the legislation. Spokesperson Sherry Hastings noted that TCE alternatives like Fluosolv are a big concern in neighborhoods surrounding Water Gremlin. In an email to Rep. Wazlawik, Hastings indicated that NCCG wants to be actively involved in understanding Fluosolv so communities can be better educated on the potential health impacts of the chemical over time.

Also noted in the project proposal: Money in the account cannot be used towards injury or tort claims. 

The bills are expected to be heard in the Senate and House by Easter break.

“There is plenty of momentum,” Wiger noted. “It's a work in progress. Any differences can be worked out in a conference committee as need be.” 

Chamberlain is also working on a bill banning TCE (SF2075). The House passed a similar bill April 1 (see separate story).  


Private wells test negative

The Department of Health is sampling private wells in Gem Lake for contaminants in the aftermath of the Water Gremlin emissions alert, including trichloroethylene (TCE). 

Hydrogeologist Ginny Yingling reported 12 wells were sampled in March and tested for 68 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including TCE and its various breakdown products. “No VOCs were detected in those samples,” she said. 

The health department planned to test the water at Gem Lake's town hall April 8. The building is just down Otter Lake Road from the Water Gremlin plant. Results will take about two weeks. 

Yingling doesn't expect the city hall samples to be any different. 

“On-site monitoring wells at Water Gremlin did not detect any TCE or other VOCs migrating off the property and there really is no airborne deposition pathway for the TCE that was emitted to the air to get into the groundwater,” the hydrogeologist noted. “TCE has too high of a vapor pressure to migrate from air to water once it's evaporated into the air.” 

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