Water Gremlin, the Twin Cities area company under fire for longtime pollution problems, tried unsuccessfully this summer to move some of its disputed operations across the river to Hudson, Wis.
But the Wisconsin company it was negotiating with scuttled the deal after WCCO reported the move Monday.
It’s the latest twist in a pollution scandal that now has a state lawmaker calling on Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles to investigate both Water Gremlin Co. and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for potential criminal violations regarding the company’s history of emitting high levels of the cancer-causing chemical tricholorethylene, or TCE, into the air.
“Someone, or more likely several people, dropped the ball in the Water Gremlin situation,” said Sen. Roger Chamberlain, a Lino Lakes Republican, in a news release Wednesday.
Last week, personal-injury lawyer Dean Salita, representing plant neighbors with health concerns, and former Attorney General Lori Swanson sued the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in Hennepin County District Court for not providing documents they have requested related to Water Gremlin’s toxic emissions.
As for Water Gremlin’s attempted jump to Wisconsin, an executive with Hi-Tec Finishing in Hudson told the Star Tribune on Wednesday that Water Gremlin approached it around May. He said they entered a contract for Hi-Tec Finishing to handle the coatings operations at issue in Minnesota. He provided a copy of the statement Hi-Tec Finishing Chief Executive Brent LaBrie issued Tuesday.
“When it entered into the contract with Water Gremlin, Hi-Tec was unaware that the chemicals used to process the Water Gremlin products are alleged to be unsafe and unhealthy,” LaBrie said in the statement. “Hi-Tec only became aware of this fact on August 26, 2019 after being advised by the local media. In response, Hi-Tec has taken immediate steps to terminate its relationship with Water Gremlin.”
Carl Dubois, Water Gremlin’s vice president of international manufacturing, said the company was disappointed by the decision.
Dubois also said that there has been “misinformation” about the environmental and human health impacts of the type of dichloroethylene, or DCE, the solvent it switched to, that have created “undue concerns.” It switched to a type called t-DCE.
“The distinction is important to note as DCE typically refers to 1,1-DCE, which is listed on the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) as a possible carcinogen, whereas t-DCE is not,” Dubois said.
Water Gremlin makes fishing sinkers and terminals for vehicle batteries at its facility on 4400 Otter Lake Road in White Bear Township. It uses solvents in its coating operations to prevent corrosion. For years it used TCE. But after the MPCA revealed last winter that it had been emitting illegally high amounts of TCE for more than a decade, it voluntarily shut down the coatings line.
There has been community outrage that the manufacturer’s pollution problems dragged on for so many years, raising questions about the effectiveness of MPCA’s pollution permits and oversight.
Water Gremlin then settled with state regulators, agreeing to pay the state more than $7 million and to stop using TCE. It switched to a less toxic TCE substitute, dichloroethylene, or DCE, but again had problems with emissions and the MPCA asked that it again shut down the line. The company agreed last week to shut down for only a few days.
Last Thursday, the MPCA issued an administrative order for it to shut down the coatings line until it submits a plan to stop further contamination.
“We are still waiting for that plan,” MPCA spokesman Darin Broton said.
Broton said that since Laura Bishop was appointed MPCA commissioner, Bishop has been asking questions about the Water Gremlin situation.
He said the agency would cooperate with any investigation should Choi or Nobles pursue one. He said that Minnesota’s system for regulating pollution relies on companies to self-report their emissions.
“If the Legislature would like to change that rule, it should look at doing so,” Broton said. “Since learning about Water Gremlin’s 15 years of inaccurate reporting, the agency has been holding the company accountable, including ordering it to shut down the line in question.”