Water Gremlin

May 2020

May 21: Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency completed an update on the chemical 1,4-dioxane found in groundwater near Water Gremlin, including information on additional testing of private wells this summer: 1,4-Dioxane and Drinking Water Update.

May 14: The Minnesota Department of Health re-evaluated the risk assessment advice for tDCE in ambient air near Water Gremlin. The re-evaluation resulted in MDH developing a chronic value of 20 micrograms per cubic meter (µgl3) and a subchronic value of 200 µgl3. The chronic value represents a level in outdoor air that is protective for long-term exposure, and the subchronic value represents a level that is protective up to eight years. The previous chronic level had been 70 µgl3. The new air permit that MPCA developing for Water Gremlin will factor in the revised advice.

MDH has added a new document to their Water Gremlin Site web page. Water Gremlin Health Assessment Series: trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene in Air and Health describes how MDH uses tDCE toxicology studies and risk assessment to develop air guidance values, the Water Gremlin tDCE air monitoring data, and MDH’s conclusions about Water Gremlin’s tDCE emissions and health risk.

January 2020

Jan. 17: MPCA issued an administrative order allowing Water Gremlin to resume coating operations using volatile organic compounds (VOCs) under certain conditions, including:

  • Phased-in restart and new testing
  • Continued air monitoring and new air modeling
  • Limit on VOC emissions of 90 tons/year

December 2019

Dec. 11: MPCA, Department of Health, and Dept. of Labor and Industry hosted a public meeting about Water Gremlin. A video of the meeting is online.

November 2019

Nov. 6: The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued an administrative order to Water Gremlin requiring the company to make changes to the way it manages hazardous waste at its White Bear Township facility. The new requirements were ordered after an MPCA investigation determined that Water Gremlin failed to comply with hazardous waste regulations that minimize the possibility of a release of hazardous waste at its White Bear Township facility. The agency found leaks of hazardous waste containing lead and TCE on the facility’s floor, walls and equipment. In addition, cracks in the facility’s floor provided pathways for lead and TCE-contaminated materials to leak under the building into the subsoils. The MPCA’s investigation also found that Water Gremlin failed to stop releases of used oil to the environment. The company’s filtration equipment that removes soot and ash from exhaust fumes was releasing lead-contaminated used oil onto Water Gremlin’s pavement. 

August 2019

Aug. 22: The MPCA issued an administrative order prohibiting Water Gremlin from operating its solvent-coating operations after an investigation found TCE, tDCE and lead in the air, ground and surface water on the property. Requirements in this administrative order have been satisfied.

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

This map was updated in January 2020 using data from the airport in Crystal, Minn., which yields a slightly different shape than the previous map. The map shows the extent of annual average TCE concentrations above the health benchmark of 2 micrograms per cubic meter of air for the year 2018.

Updated map of White Bear Lake showing Water Gremlin facility at Otter Lake Rd and Whitaker St. The estimated area of concern extends 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