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Water Gremlin served with dozens of lawsuits alleging cancer, chronic illness, wrongful death

Water Gremlin served with dozens of lawsuits alleging cancer, chronic illness, wrongful death
Water Gremlin served with dozens of lawsuits alleging cancer, chronic illness, wrongful death 04:54

WHITE BEAR TOWNSHIP, Minn. – A huge step in a WCCO Investigation we've been following for years. Water Gremlin is now facing dozens of lawsuits accusing the company of causing cancer, even death.    

In 2019, the manufacturing plant was fined by the state of Minnesota for releasing excessive amounts of the cancer causing chemical TCE. A practice that went on for more than 15 years.

The Minnesota Department of Health identified an area of concern, meaning people living close to the plant could have health impacts. Last year, they released a report saying the emissions of TCE may have increased those people's risk of cancer.

WCCO's Jennifer Mayerle first brought families affected nearly four years ago, and met with them once again as they start their road to what they hope is accountability for Water Gremlin.

Dave Strong's wife Louise died six years ago.

"There's someone who had a lot of life ahead of them, just a year of just absolute hell. And she fought it really hard, but you know there's only so much," Strong said.

What they all have in common is they live or lived near Water Gremlin in White Bear Township, while the manufacturing plant released elevated and unsafe levels of TCE into the air. The cancer-causing chemical is now banned in the state.

"I think about my cancer a lot," Kerri Luecke said.

"You come to terms with your mortality," Steve Laliberte said.

Cancer is a constant in their lives. Page Stevens is living with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"There's never an end to it when you have these kind of cancers. It's a lifetime struggle," Page Stevens said. "There's the emotional struggle, there's the physical, there's the financial."

For the past few years after learning about the TCE exposure, some wondered if their cancer could be connected to Water Gremlin. Now the lawsuits say the exposure is a direct cause.


"It's the people. People have suffered irreparably, permanently altered people's lives," Page Stevens said.

The lawsuits allege people have suffered substantial damage as a result of the plant that makes fishing sinkers and battery terminals. And that Page was diagnosed with her cancers because of the TCE exposure in substantial part from the negligence of Water Gremlin. Her husband Denny has been by her side through it all.

"And they will never know what they've done to families. They don't sit in the doctor's office and hear these words," Page's husband Denny Stevens said.

Surgery removed Kerri Luecke's rare skin cancer. She worries it will come back.

"Any ache or pain, it's just a fear. You know, it is, it's kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop," Luecke said.

So does Steve Laliberte with his multiple myeloma.

"I'm in remission, then it came back last year, and that's always a scare because you know, it comes back, well, can it be stopped this time," Laliberte said,

In all, there are 95 civil lawsuits, alleging cancer, chronic illness and wrongful death.

"It's not a class action because everybody has individual genetics, everybody was in different locations, they were outside at different times, they had different exposures. These are individual claims against the company," attorney Dean Salita said.

In the wrongful death cases, the complaints link the cancer to TCE exposure, and their death to their cancer. Salita represents the people behind the suits.

"These are cases where the medical literature is strong, the evidence is strong. The company has admitted to doing this, they paid an unprecedented fine. And here we are. I'm hoping the company will step up on behalf of these people whose lives have been damaged," Salita said.

Not everyone who came forward with health concerns is part of the lawsuits. There wasn't enough evidence to include Steve's wife Jodi's cancer.

"It's disappointing because you are looking for an answer and a connection," Jodi Laliberte said.

But she, and the others, say they support each other and their journeys to find out why. They all want to see Water Gremlin held accountable.

"An example has to be set," Dave Strong said.

Real people, real families.

"That have suffered losses that, you can't even measure the loss and what the people have gone through," Luecke said.

"If you count up the number of people that they potentially hurt, it's huge," Laliberte said.

Water Gremlin gave WCCO the following statement:

Water Gremlin first learned of the complaints this morning from the Schmidt-Salita Law Firm. Water Gremlin is carefully reviewing each of these claims. Nearly half of all Minnesotans will be diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening cancer in their lifetime. Water Gremlin has deep sympathy for all families experiencing this terrible disease.

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