Attorneys might be suing General Mills for the aftereffects of chemicals dumped years ago in southeast Minneapolis, but they are also raising questions about the state agency that is supposed to make the company fix the problem.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) is “failing” to protect residents in the Como neighborhood because it is allowing General Mills to conduct short-term tests and pay only for fixes in homes with high levels of the contaminant, known as TCE, said Norman Berger, a Chicago attorney who filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday on behalf of Como homeowners.
TCE vapors move “in a sinister way” and could emerge later under homes that now appear safe, he said. “To make a remediation decision based on an isolated measurement is scientifically irresponsible,” he said.
The homeowners’ lawsuit seeks remediation systems in all 200 of the homes being tested, regardless of the results.
Testing so far has found troubling levels of TCE vapors below 42 homes south and west of the former General Mills plant at 2010 E. Hennepin Av, a federally designated Superfund site where solvents containing TCE were dumped from 1947 to 1962. But 27 homes have levels that are too low to qualify for fixes; retesting is scheduled in 13 of them.
An associate of environmental crusader Erin Brockovich also expressed concerns about the PCA’s stance. Robert Bowcock of Integrated Resource Management in California, who was scheduled to meet with Como homeowners Saturday, questioned the PCA’s decision in 2010 to shut down a pumping system General Mills had funded to remove TCE from groundwater. He said that could have changed water flow and allowed TCE vapors to rise into the soil.
PCA officials have said they don’t believe the shutdown had anything to do with the buildup of TCE in soil vapors, which could have been occurring for years. Scientists didn’t really understand how TCE moved in soil vapors until recently, officials noted, so the PCA has had to adjust its oversight of the cleanup efforts as knowledge of the chemical has changed.