A Minnesota agency has levied its highest penalty ever — $7 million — against a company for polluting air in White Bear Township.
Water Gremlin Inc., maker of fishing lures and battery posts, released a chemical solvent into the air from its factory, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The chemical trichloroethylene, or TCE, was released from 2002 until last January.
The company will pay a $4.5 million fine for the pollution. It will also install four air-quality monitors around the site at a cost of $1 million, and complete environmentally friendly projects for another $1.5 million.
The total cost of $7 million is the highest ever ordered by the MPCA acting alone, said spokesman Ralph Pribble. The MPCA and other agencies ordered $8 million be paid by an oil refinery that was polluting the area.
The agency reported that Water Gremlin has been a chronic polluter for 17 years.
From 2002-18, the company annually emitted at least three times more volatile compounds including TCE than were allowed in its permits. In 2018 alone, it released 120 tons of the compounds — 12 times more than its permit allowed.
From 2002 to 2016, the agency said, Water Gremlin emitted a total of 759 tons of the compounds into the air.
The MPCA learned about the Water Gremlin violations in January, when it found out that pollution control equipment was not working properly. The agency discovered that the factory had been making unreported releases of pollution since 2002.
The agency said air was polluted within a 1.5-mile radius of the factory, which is at 4400 Otter Lake Road.
TCE is odorless and invisible. It is commonly used in factories as a solvent and degreaser for metals. TCE is also found in household products including adhesives, paint and stain removers, and parts cleaners.
According to the state Department of Health, elevated TCE exposures may increase the risk of birth defects and certain types of cancers.
“The exposures to TCE that these communities suffered should never have happened,” said MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop, in a news release.
“We know this penalty will be small consolation to those who may face increased health risks because they lived near the facility. Still, it is one of the largest environmental penalties in the state’s history, and sends a strong signal of the agency’s expectations.”
Water Gremlin shut down the factory in January. It will be allowed to restart, but must use a safer alternative to TCE.
The $1.5 million in environmental programs will consist of:
- Coordinating a program for other manufacturers that use TCE, encouraging them to switch to alternatives.
- Planting and maintaining 1,500 trees in public areas in White Bear Lake, Gem Lake and White Bear Township.
The settlement annoyed a group of local officials, who said they were not informed about the negotiations leading to the penalties.
A joint statement issued Friday said: “While we understand the desire to reach a settlement … we have significant concerns. While we appreciate the public hearings, local officials and state legislators were not consulted prior to the final settlement.”
It was signed by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes; Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview; Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood; Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville; Rep. Peter Fischer, DFL-Maplewood; and Rep. Ami Wazlawik, DFL-White Bear Lake.
It was also signed by White Bear Township Board Chair Ed Prudhon and Clerk Patrick Christopherson; White Bear Lake Mayor Jo Emerson and Manager Ellen Hiniker; and Gem Lake council member Len Cacioppo.