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New Concerns Over Twin Cities Plant After Toxic Chemicals Found In Soil, Water

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- There are renewed concerns about a manufacturing plant that illegally released a toxic chemical into the air for years.

Crews just found new contaminants on Water Gremlin's property, this time in the water and soil. So, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency asked the White Bear Township company to stop part of its operations until the problems are fixed.

WCCO-TV has learned the company suggested a different option.

Chants of "Stop Water Gremlin," and "Do Your Job" echoed outside the MPCA while officials said changes at Water Gremlin keep falling short. The plant makes fishing sinkers and battery terminal posts.

MPCA revealed crews found the cancer-causing chemical TCE, a new chemical called DCE and lead on site -- in the soil, ground and surface water, sediments and vapor.

The state ordered Water Gremlin to stop using TCE last winter. The company paid $7 million in fines and corrective action for releasing that toxic chemical into the air for more than 15 years.

What's most concerning to officials now is the presence of the replacement chemical DCE, found in vapors under the plant.

READ MORE: MPCA Admits It Failed A Metro Community

"We want to determine the extent and magnitude of those contaminations and determine how to move forward, and we believe best course of action is for Water Gremlin to cease operation," said Craig McDonnell of the MPCA.

Instead of voluntarily halting production, Water Gremlin asked for a meeting with MPCA's commissioner. And the company said it disagrees with many of the agency's conclusions.

WCCO-TV has also learned Water Gremlin's new pollution control equipment isn't meeting standards. It's only capturing about 25% of the plant's DCE emissions.

The community, dealing with cancer and other health concerns, is outraged pollution problems persist.

"In my opinion, they should have been shut down long ago," said Paige Stevens, who lives near Water Gremlin. "This just absolutely confirms my opinion, that we're not living in a safe community."

"At the end of the day, I'm angry, and the question I keep asking myself is how many mistakes is somebody allowed to make before there's real accountability?" community member Leigh Thiel said.

Water Gremlin and MPCA's commissioner will try to meet on Friday. The state has said it will take action if the company doesn't stop using that replacement chemical, DCE. That could include shutting down the plant.

Here is Water Gremlin's full response:

Water Gremlin disagrees with many of the conclusions made public today by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The company has invited Commissioner Bishop and her staff to visit Water Gremlin to see the improvements and discuss the course of action that we have been working on with MPCA staff.

First and foremost, we want our community to know the DCE vapors found beneath our manufacturing building do not pose a threat to our workers, our neighbors, or the environment. We have notified our employees, and our indoor vapor testing shows rates are well below OSHA standards.

The DCE vapors were detected in the air space immediately beneath our building. No data suggests that the vapors will move beyond our building footprint. No data suggests a liquid release. No data suggests that soils have been impacted.

We are installing a vapor mitigation system -- like a home radon system -- to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. We have also created an action plan to fully mitigate and proactively address any future problems.

We, along with the MPCA, have been monitoring the air at five locations within our property since March 1. During this time, the average annual DCE standard set by the MPCA (70 micrograms per cubic meter) has not been exceeded. We are tracking future monitored results to ensure that it is not exceeded as an annual average at any of the five monitored locations.

We are sorry that we have created health concerns in the community. We have taken measures over the past several months to ensure that we can continue to operate in an environmentally responsible way that poses no threat to the health of our neighbors and workers. The trust of our community is important to us, and we will continue to work hard to earn it.

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