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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Ami Wazlawik (DFL)

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Protecting the Health of Minnesotans and Addressing Community Concerns

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The following column by Representative Ami Wazlawik was published Wednesday, March 20 in the White Bear Press: 

As many of you are aware, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) recently announced that the Water Gremlin plant in White Bear Township had been emitting high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) for over a decade. Exposure to this toxic chemical can increase the risk of cancer and other serious health effects and impact fetal development during pregnancy.

These past few weeks have been stressful for our community. Many thanks to all of you who shared your stories, fears, and frustrations with me during this difficult time. I’ve heard your concerns and introduced legislation to address them, protect the health of Minnesotans, and ensure that people who’ve been harmed have information and input.

TCE Ban

We’ve known that TCE is dangerous for years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has studied the chemical extensively and designated it as a carcinogen in 2011 due to links with cancer in several industrial sites. In late 2016 and early 2017, the EPA proposed banning certain uses of TCE. While the EPA appeared poised to limit the use of TCE at the close of the Obama administration, the agency put Americans in danger by indefinitely postponing these bans.

The cause of the Water Gremlin emissions was an undetected equipment malfunction. We all know that mechanical problems are common. Why would we allow manufacturers to use chemicals that pose such a significant danger to public health when the tools that are supposed to protect us from exposure don’t always work?

While the federal government may continue to delay, the state government must act now. I’ve introduced legislation that would ban all uses of TCE. This would prohibit the high-risk activities from the EPA’s proposed ban and other manufacturing purposes. It would require companies to replace TCE with a safer alternative, not another dangerous chemical. And it would ban producing household products that contain TCE.

Although this won’t help those who have already been exposed, we must ban TCE to protect other Minnesotans.

Accountability and Public Input

Many constituents were frustrated by the response to this situation. Residents felt that they weren’t properly notified about the TCE emissions, possible health impacts, and public meetings held by the MPCA and Minnesota Department of Health.

Community members asked for more information on health impacts and other issues during the first informational meeting. However, current law doesn’t allow the MPCA to release certain data during the course of an investigation or prior to reaching a settlement. It also prohibits members of the public and even their local elected officials and state legislators from being involved in that process. The people that were impacted essentially have no say in deciding what remedies should be provided to the community.

It’s time to change that. I’ve introduced two bills that would allow the public to access more information and give the people of White Bear Township, White Bear Lake, and Gem Lake the power to determine what solutions are best for our community and Minnesota.

The first proposal would permit the MPCA to release information to make the community aware of hazardous releases that have happened or may happen. The second would establish a TCE emission response account with the funds from the state’s settlement with Water Gremlin. This money is usually directed to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and used for projects throughout the state.

The Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund is a great asset to Minnesota, but the voices of the people who were impacted should be a factor in determining how the settlement funds are spent. This legislation would require the MPCA and the legislature to work with individuals and businesses from the area of concern to decide how the funds should be spent.

As your representative, it’s my priority to make sure your voice is heard and you are included in the legislative process. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at rep.ami.wazlawik@house.mn or 651-296-3018. I will always listen to your concerns and continue to advocate for our community.

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