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White Bear Township firm halts production after potentially exposing people to harmful fumes

Water Gremlin stopped production after concerns over emissions of trichloroethylene.

A company in the northeast Twin Cities metro has halted production after potentially exposing nearby residents to harmful fumes.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says it's investigating Water Gremlin, a White Bear Township firm that makes fishing sinkers and battery terminal posts, after finding it has been emitting higher-than-permitted levels of trichloroethylene – TCE – into the air.

TCE is a carcinogenic chemical, and the MPCA says that people within a mile of the company's premises may have been exposed to harmful fumes that have the potential to cause cancer and other health problems.

The company, located at 4400 Otter Lake Road, has been using TCE since the 1970s to coat its battery terminal posts.

It shut down its production on Jan. 14 at the request of the MPCA, and will remain shut down "as long as necessary to protect public health."

The MPCA released a map showing the area potentially affected by the TCE emissions.

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 10.57.25 AM

TCE is odorless and colorless, so it's difficult for people to see or smell it.

It managed to escape from Water Gremlin in higher-than-permitted levels because the company's carbon adsorber wasn't working properly.

"The carbon becomes less efficient at capturing pollutants over time and must be replaced. In the case of Water Gremlin, it appears the carbon adsorber lost efficiency quicker than expected, to the point where it was functioning at various levels of control, including barely functioning," the MPCA says.

"This allowed TCE to be vented from the building at levels that may have been much higher than allowed."

The health implications

Exposure to TCE can have impacts on immune, central nervous and reproductive systems, as well as the liver and kidneys.

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.

"The potential for a person to actually experience a health effect depends on the amount of a chemical that a person is exposed to and the length of the exposure," the MPCA notes. "Exposures to chemicals for most people are likely to be at low levels for part of a day, or part of a year, etc."

In a statement sent to WCCO, Water Gremlin apologized for the "concern and inconvenience this has caused."

"The safety of our employees and neighbors continues to be our number one priority. We are working with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to permanently resolve the issue and switch to an alternate solvent that is not a hazardous air pollutant."

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