Water Gremlin

August 28, 2019

On August 22, 2019, the MPCA issued an administrative order against Water Gremlin that required the company to immediately shut down its coating operations using a tDCE solvent. Under the administrative order, the company may not resume coating operations until it has taken corrective action to address tDCE emissions beneath the Water Gremlin facility. These corrective actions must be approved by MPCA, completed, and determined to be effective before coating operations may resume.

MPCA hosted a community meeting on August 27 to discuss the latest developments.

 

Investigation

In January 2019, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) investigated community exposures to an industrial solvent called trichloroethylene (TCE) used by Water Gremlin, a manufacturer in White Bear Township. MPCA’s investigation showed that the company failed to report accurate emission data for more than 15 years. Water Gremlin violated its permit and exposed the surrounding neighborhoods to TCE levels above MDH’s health benchmark of 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air.  

MPCA computer models suggested the area of concern for TCE emissions is roughly as shown in the map below. The orange line represents the estimated extent of concentrations in outdoor air that may have exceeded the long-term MDH health benchmark. The modeling incorporated 2018 annual TCE usage, as reported by Water Gremlin, and meteorological data collected at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

More information regarding the health effects of TCE is available from the Minnesota Department of Health.  

Map of area of concern

Map of White Bear Lake showing Water Gremlin facility at Otter Lake Rd and Whitaker St. The concern area extend approximately a mile in every direction from the facility.

Settlement agreement

On March 1, 2019, Water Gremlin and the MPCA agreed on a settlement for violations of the facility’s air quality permit. The settlement represents one of the largest civil penalties ever issued by the MPCA. The agreement allowed Water Gremlin to switch from TCE to an alternative product called FluoSolv WS, which uses trans-1,2-Dichloroethene (tDCE) as its main ingredient.

The MPCA implemented stringent requirements on Water Gremlin’s tDCE usage, including preventing the company from using excessive quantities during the first few months while the new equipment was being installed and becoming operational. During this period, Water Gremlin was required to reduce its tDCE usage when concentrations measured in outdoor air exceeded an action level set in the agreement.

Once the new equipment was installed, Water Gremlin needed to temporarily increase its usage of tDCE to demonstrate the efficacy of its pollution control equipment at peak capacity and to help MPCA develop a more stringent air permit. Water Gremlin is prohibited from exceeding a rolling 12-month volatile organic compounds (VOC) limit of 90 tons. If the company exceeds this limit, it must shut down operations until the rolling average drops below the limit.

Requirement

Status

Discontinue use of TCE on the site

Complete

Replace TCE with a less-toxic alternative (FluoSolv)

Complete

Install new pollution control equipment

Complete

Submit to third-party, 24-hour air monitoring tests once every three days (results reported to MPCA)

Continues

Submit daily reports on FluoSolv use

Continues

Submit monthly reports of VOC emissions

Continues

Apply for a new, more stringent air permit

Application submitted February 2019

Coordinate third-party efforts to reduce or eliminate TCE emissions at other facilities

In progress

Complete a community forestry project in White Bear Lake, White Bear Township and Gem Lake

In progress

Pay a civil penalty of $4.5 million

Complete

 

Speak with staff at MDH or MPCA about Water Gremlin