Water Gremlin: Investigation updates

Private well testing results for 1, 4-dioxane.

ST. PAUL — As part of its ongoing work to address contamination at the Water Gremlin facility, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) want the community to know they will continue to provide important and timely information on the latest developments. 

That introduction accompanied the following March 11 update on the White Bear Township plant, located at 4400 Otter Lake Road: 


Testing for 1,4-dioxane

The chemical 1,4-dioxane is commonly used in industrial processes, often as a stabilizer for chlorinated solvents, primarily in trichloroethane (TCA), but sometimes in trichloroethylene (TCE), both of which were used at Water Gremlin. 

In December 2019, the MPCA requested the MDH to test for 1,4-dioxane as part of ongoing environmental investigations at Water Gremlin. 1,4-dioxane was found in shallow groundwater on the site at concentrations above the MDH drinking-water guidance value for this chemical.

At MPCA’s request, MDH contacted nearby property owners who use private wells for drinking water to test for 1,4-dioxane in late January and early February. Low levels of the chemical were detected in two private wells located south of the facility (see accompanying map). While these detections are not a health concern, as a precaution, additional well samples will be collected to verify these results and determine if any other wells have been affected.

At this time, the MPCA cannot determine whether impacts to private wells are from Water Gremlin. Water Gremlin’s consultant will be required to do additional investigation to evaluate how far 1,4-dioxane has traveled off site.

MDH has posted new information online in the Water Gremlin Health Assessment Series on Private Well Testing for 1,4-dioxane. For more information, see the Health Assessment Series: Private Well Testing for 1,4-Dioxane (PDF) on the MDH Water Gremlin site webpage or go to https://tinyurl.com/vq8g85w.


Remedial investigation

In addition to sampling for 1,4-dioxane, the MPCA recently received the draft Supplemental Remedial Investigation (SRI) report from Wenck Associates, Water Gremlin's environmental consultant. The lengthy report, issued Feb. 21, is part of the stipulation agreement signed a year ago between MPCA and Water Gremlin.

The MPCA has reviewed the report and provided Water Gremlin with its comments. The draft SRI report and comment letter are available on the MPCA’s website, https://tinyurl.com/sycptvx

The MPCA is requiring Water Gremlin to continue to define the extent and magnitude of certain chemicals in several environmental media including soil, groundwater, surface water and sediment.

In the letter dated March 9 to Mary Gail Scott, environmental compliance manager at Water Gremlin, MPCA hydrologist Michael Ginsbach said staff agrees with conclusions in the report that stormwater ponds should be dredged to remove lead-impacted sediment. Staff does not agree that no additional evaluation for lead-impacted sediments is needed. Additional samples are also required for 1,4-dioxane.

The agency also wants more surface water sampling for lead west of Otter Lake Road. Staff agree that more investigation is required in both the shallow, unconfined aquifer and deeper, confined aquifer for 1,4-dioxane. Ginsbach said staff also agrees that a permanent monitoring well network on the north campus property is required but wants additional temporary wells installed on the south side of Lambert Creek. 

MPCA is also requiring an environmental investigation for all potentially impacted environmental media for the Water Gremlin South Campus property due to the use of solvents and lead at this location.


Coating operations

The company has resumed coating with a handful of coating units and continues working to get others online. Water Gremlin has completed sampling below the building slab and indoor air, and the data indicates all vapors within the building are contained and being discharged in accordance with the industrial air requirements, i.e. no vapors are escaping the facility into soils beneath the slab.

In the update, the MPCA assures that agency staff will continue to make regular inspections at the facility and is working to ensure Water Gremlin becomes compliant with state laws and regulations.

Readers will recall that in July 2018, Water Gremlin self-reported that the facility’s air pollution control equipment (solvent recovery system) was not functioning properly, causing TCE to be emitted into the air at concentrations exceeding those allowed under its facility air permit. On March 1, 2019, the MPCA issued a stipulation agreement related to alleged air emissions violations. Water Gremlin was required to pay a $4.5-million dollar fine and fund two supplemental environmental projects for a combined $1.5 million. Water Gremlin is currently working with the MPCA to complete on-site environmental investigation in accordance with the agreement.

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