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Minnesota Legislature

Lawmakers look to ban TCE after Water Gremlin air quality case

It’s been nearly one year since news broke that the state pollution regulator levied one of its largest civil penalties ever against a White Bear Township company that violated its air quality permit.

That came months after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency began investigating Water Gremlin, which makes fishing gear and lead terminals for batteries. It found the company failed to report accurate emission data for more than 15 years and exposed surrounding neighborhoods to trichloroethylene levels above the state Health Department benchmark.

On March 1, Water Gremlin and the MPCA agreed on a settlement for violations and the company was ordered to stop using trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent that causes cancer and fetal heart defects.

In the wake of that case, Rep. Ami Wazlawik (DFL-White Bear Township) sponsors HF3376 that would prohibit the use of TCE after Jan. 1, 2022 at facilities with air quality permits, and require facilities to use less toxic chemicals.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee approved the bill 15-0 via roll call Monday and referred the bill to the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division. It does not have a Senate companion.

A citizens group that sprang up in the wake of the Water Gremlin case, Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group, submitted testimony in support of the bill. The group said TCE soil and water pollution has also impacted communities such as Bayport, Fridley, St. Louis Park, Minneapolis, Edina, New Brighton and Arden Hills. It noted in-person inspections are infrequent, putting communities at risk. And the group learned citizens aren’t warned when information comes to light, and not consulted as agreements are being made.

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville) said it’s time to pass such legislation.

“We need to get moving. We need to do something,” she said. “We’ve waited long enough. It’s been a year of meetings.”

Assistant Commissioner Greta Gauthier said such a ban is a priority for the MPCA.

Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin) said the agency was “absolutely indicted” by the Water Gremlin case and asked whether it is “looking at the right things.”

Gauthier said many other states use the same system. “That’s never to say that maybe things could be better,” she said.

Wazlawik also sponsors HF3377 that would require the MPCA to require facilities with air quality permits to increase the frequency their emissions are measured rather than self-reported, a problem exposed by the Water Gremlin case. The MPCA estimated the bill would require over 100 full-time employees and cost $15 million per year.

It, too, was approved and sent to the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division. It also has no Senate companion.


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