The MPCA is considering a major amendment to the air quality permit held by Water Gremlin, a manufacturing facility in White Bear Township. In efforts to improve and protect air quality in the township and surrounding area, the revised permit will include more stringent limits on pollution emissions and new operating requirements to ensure accountability.
MPCA held an online public meeting about the draft on Feb. 9.
The MPCA added several new limits and operating requirements to this air permit.
- The permit expires in five years instead of the current non-expiring status, which allows the agency to re-evaluate the total facility on a regular basis.
- It includes more emission units, with specific emission and process limitations. As part of this permitting process, the MPCA evaluated more pollutants than are included in the existing permit. As a result, we established a greater number of emission limits and new operating requirements to limit pollution.
- The MPCA established emission limits and operating requirements based on site-specific analysis of air impacts (air modeling and air toxics assessment) and taking into account current ambient monitoring data. In partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), we developed human health benchmarks for the solvent replacing TCE in compliance with the TCE ban mandate to ensure the replacement solvent will not cause adverse impacts.
- Water Gremlin must adhere to more stringent requirements to demonstrate compliance with the permit. Primary requirements include record keeping, calculations, stack testing and reporting, as well as backup (secondary) methods to verify the reliability of the primary methods.
- New requirements call for continued ambient monitoring of t-DCE around the facility. This monitoring will help ensure the effectiveness of the multiple permit conditions and the protection of human health. Monitoring results must be reported regularly.
A proposed draft air major permit amendment was first placed on public notice in July/August 2022. MPCA staff reviewed the comments received from interested parties and the permittee and made corrections and clarifications to the draft air major permit amendment and technical support document.
Looking back: Investigation and enforcement
2021 enforcement action. Water Gremlin agreed to pay a $325,000 civil penalty and correct violations of state rules regarding management of hazardous wastes on the site. An MPCA investigation revealed that the company failed to properly manage oil and hazardous waste to prevent leaks, and that leaked material mixed with stormwater and drained to a nearby pond and wetland.
2020 minor air permit amendment. The MPCA issued an amendment to Water Gremlin’s permit to convert one solvent-based coater to a non-solvent curing process using ultraviolet light. The amendment went into effect Feb. 23, 2021, after a public participation process.
2019 investigation and corrective action. In one of the largest civil penalties to date, the MPCA required Water Gremlin to pay $4.5 million and make numerous correction actions after an investigation into community exposures to an industrial solvent called trichloroethylene (TCE).
The investigation, led in partnership with MDH, determined that Water Gremlin violated its air permit and exposed the surrounding neighborhoods to TCE levels above MDH’s health benchmark. It also revealed that the company failed to report accurate emission data for more than 15 years.
More information regarding the health effects of TCE is available from the Minnesota Department of Health.
The settlement 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.
The MPCA has not seen any levels of air pollution around the Water Gremlin site that would require immediate action since the company stopped using TCE. The MPCA will continue to review the monitoring data to determine if levels of VOCs at the Water Gremlin facility are significantly different than what we see at other air monitors in the Twin Cities.