SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Today, Rep. Ami Wazlawik (DFL – White Bear Township) and other legislators whose communities were impacted by a series of problems at the Water Gremlin facility in White Bear Township outlined a new plan to prevent similar situations and protect the health of Minnesotans.
“No Minnesotan should ever experience preventable health risks from exposure to toxic chemicals,” said Rep. Ami Wazlawik. “I’m excited to move forward with an ambitious plan to protect workers, communities, and the environment and hold polluters accountable. The changes that we’re proposing help ensure that nothing like what occurred at Water Gremlin ever happens again.”
“The problems that occurred at Water Gremlin had a significant impact on me, my loved ones, and many of my neighbors,” said Leigh Thiel, a member of the White Bear Area Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group that joined the bicameral group of legislators. “Our community has lived in fear and uncertainty for several months, but adversity has brought us together and made us more determined. I’m grateful that we’ve been able to work with our legislators and support legislation that will protect other Minnesotans.”
One of the highlights of the plan is a statewide ban on trichloroethylene (TCE), a carcinogenic chemical that can increase risks for certain types of cancer and other serious health issues. Rep. Wazlawik introduced a similar bill last session. It passed the Minnesota House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support but was rejected by Senate Republicans. The new plan includes additional measures to protect Minnesotans from toxic chemicals, such as requiring facilities with potential air pollutants to undergo more frequent and rigorous testing and comply with expanded reporting requirements.
Minnesota’s state agencies need clearer authority and better tools to ensure that businesses are acting responsibly and being good neighbors. Legislators are working with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and other departments to identify policies that would help these agencies investigate potential air pollution and be more effective. The plan features proposals that would clarify state agencies’ authority to enforce existing laws and permits and provide additional investigators and other tools to investigate potential air pollution. It also allows state agencies to share data so they can better work together to protect workers, communities and the environment.
House DFLers are committed to holding polluters accountable. The House DFL plan creates a pathway for filing criminal charges against polluters; increases penalties for those found guilty of certain felonies, including some permit and rule violations; and offers incentives to encourage people to come forward if companies are committing violations or putting workers or community members at risk.
Many White Bear Area residents were dissatisfied with community engagement efforts following the events at Water Gremlin. The House DFL’s new plan would address many of the concerns they shared with legislators. It expands public access to information about environmental hazards and requires community engagement before a settlement agreement can be reached. It also provides opportunities for community members to share feedback and ask questions about non-expiring permits and requires assessing cumulative impacts to communities when issuing air quality permits.
The plan strengthens protections for workers as well. It requires all training to be accessible for workers and stipulates that information must be available in a language that they understand. It also provides financial relief for impacted workers and allows state agencies to share knowledge of workplace violations so they are better able to protect workers.