WHITE BEAR TOWNSHIP — Two days after personal injury attorneys filed a civil lawsuit in district court against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for refusing to hand over records regarding Water Gremlin (see separate story), its commissioner ordered the company to immediately cease all solvent-based coating operations.
In a press release issued Friday morning, Aug. 23, the agency said it learned that Water Gremlin knew June 20, 2019 that it was releasing dichloroethylene, or DCE, the primary ingredient in the solvent FluoSolv, into soil vapor beneath its plant and possibly into adjacent areas, rather than through its control stack as required. DCE is a solvent Water Gremlin uses for coating battery terminals to prevent batteries from leaking.
MPCA learned in January that Water Gremlin failed to report accurate emissions data for more than 15 years and said it has sought greater accountability from the company for its current and past behavior.
The company failed to immediately report the DCE release or take corrective actions, and finally reported the information to MPCA 40 days later on July 30, 2019.
On Aug. 14, Water Gremlin was asked to voluntarily halt its coating operations until corrective actions could be taken to prevent further release of the chemical.
The company offered to pause its operations from Aug. 23 to Aug. 28 while it mitigated the current contamination; however, Water Gremlin does not have a plan to stop future contamination, wrote MPCA.
As a result of its inaction, Water Gremlin was issued an administrative order Aug. 22 by Commissioner Laura Bishop that requires the company to shut down its coating operations.
The operation may not restart until corrective action is taken to address the release of DCE into the soil vapor beneath the facility. Corrective actions must also be approved by MPCA, completed and determined to be effective before the coating operation can resume.
Findings of fact in the order included a 54-point list that included statements such as:
• Water Gremlin is actively releasing a toxic substance in violation of state law.
• Water Gremlin has no control over the active release of DCE.
• Water Gremlin does not know the extent and magnitude of the unauthorized release from its facility.
• The ongoing release of DCE is a public health concern.
• MPCA did not authorize this release from the facility under the stipulation agreement signed March 1, 2019. The release violates the agreement.
MPCA indicated it will continue to closely monitor air emissions in and around the facility. Water Gremlin must also continue investigating soil, groundwater and soil vapor to determine the extent and magnitude of the contamination.
On Friday afternoon, Aug. 23, Carl Dubois, Water Gremlin’s vice president of international manufacturing, released this statement regarding MPCA’s administrative order:
“We ceased coating operations last night immediately upon receiving the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s administrative order. Yesterday, prior to our planned voluntary shutdown at 6:30 this morning, we submitted a plan to capture the t-DCE vapor beneath our building and to prevent more t-DCE vapor from traveling through the floor into the air space below our building.
“While we continue to work in earnest with the MPCA to address its concerns, it is important to note that environmental experts are confident that the t-DCE vapors are limited to the air space immediately beneath our building and do not pose a risk to our employees, neighbors or the environment.
“The health and well-being of our community continues to be our number one priority, and we are working hard to earn back their trust since discovering TCE emissions and reporting it to the MPCA in July of 2018.”