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Twin Cities company will pay $7M after releasing chemical linked to cancer

Water Gremlin had been releasing a chemical within a mile radius of its White Bear Township factory.

The Twin Cities company that shut down its production after it was found to be releasing a pollutant linked to cancer and birth defects has agreed to pay $7 million over the infraction.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced on Friday that Water Gremlin, of White Bear Township, will pay a $4.5 million civil penalty, $1 million for corrective actions at its factory, and $1.5 million to conduct two "supplemental environmental projects."

It comes after the firm, which makes fishing sinkers and battery terminal posts, was found to have released into the air the chemical trichloroethylene (TCE) at levels higher than permitted under state health guidelines.

The MPCA warned those living within a mile radius of the factory at 4400 Otter Lake Road that they may have been exposed to elevated levels of TCE.

"The exposures to TCE that these communities suffered should never have happened,” said Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Commissioner Laura Bishop. 

"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."

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Water Gremlin has been using TCE to coat its battery terminal posts since the '70s, but shut down production at the request of the MPCA after the emission levels were noted.

While the impact on human health depends on the level and longevity of exposure, being exposed to TCE can have impacts on immune, central nervous and reproductive systems, as well as the liver and kidneys.

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It can also affect fetal development during pregnancy, while long-term exposure can increase the risk of kidney cancer, as well as the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and liver cancer.

TCE managed to escape from Water Gremlin in higher-than-permitted levels because the company's carbon adsorber wasn't working properly, though it's not clear for how long the unsafe levels of the chemical were emitted.

The company will be allowed to restart production, however they'll have to use an alternative, less toxic product than TCE to coat its terminal posts. 

It's also agreed to place air monitors on all four sides of its property to ensure emissions are within health limits.

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