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Minnesota a signature away from becoming first state to ban TCE

Rep. Ami Wazlawik (DFL-White Bear Township), who sponsors HF3376/SF4073*, answers a question about the bill during the May 13 floor session. (Screencap via HTV1)

An industrial solvent used to clean and degrease metal parts in factories and can cause cancer and fetal heart defects is about to be banned in Minnesota.

The House voted 117-17 Wednesday to pass HF3376/SF4073*, which would ban the use of trichloroethylene, better known as TCE. If signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz — who now gets the bill — Minnesota would become the first state to ban the toxic chemical.

Sponsored by Rep. Ami Wazlawik (DFL-White Bear Township) and Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes), it was passed 66-1 by the Senate April 30.

SF4073 debated on the House Floor 5/13/20

The legislation would apply to facilities with air quality permits beginning June 1, 2022 and require facilities to use less toxic chemicals, with a few exceptions. The bill also provides $250,000 in interest-free loans to help small businesses reduce their TCE usage.

Wazlawik said the bill aims to prevent “future toxic nightmares” like the one endured in White Bear Township.

Last year, the Pollution Control Agency levied one of its largest civil penalties ever — $7 million — against Water Gremlin, a company that makes fishing gear and lead terminals for batteries. An investigation found the company failed to report accurate emission data for more than 15 years and exposed surrounding neighborhoods to unsafe TCE levels. Wazlawik said Water Gremlin was emitting 100 tons of TCE in 2018 when it was supposed to be emitting less than 10 tons.

Water Gremlin and the MPCA agreed on a settlement for violations and the company was ordered to stop using TCE.

A citizens group that sprang up in the wake of the Water Gremlin case, Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group, said TCE soil and water pollution has also impacted communities such as Bayport, Fridley, St. Louis Park, Minneapolis, Edina, New Brighton, Lake Elmo, Stillwater and Arden Hills.

“This bill is an important step because we are saying that some chemicals are just too toxic,” said Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville). “The disadvantages outweigh any reasons to continue their use.”

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