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TCE In Minnesota: Efforts To Phase Out Carcinogen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A chemical known to cause cancer and birth defects has received a lot of attention in the last year.

Last legislative session, state lawmakers tried to ban TCE, a toxic chemical the manufacturing plant Water Gremlin released into the air at unsafe levels for more than 15 years in White Bear Township.

WCCO discovered dozens of other companies in Minnesota have a connection to the chemical. Jennifer Mayerle shares if it's being used near your home and found out what's being done to phase out TCE.

The neighborhood surrounding Water Gremlin in White Bear Township hadn't heard of TCE until they learned the manufacturing plant had released unsafe levels of the toxic chemical for more than 15 years. Now, the chemical known to cause cancer and birth defects is a household name.

"Close the door, shut them down, we don't want them in our town," protestors chanted outside Water Gremlin in August.

Water Gremlin had to stop using TCE and switch to an alternative in order for it to continue operating as part of a $7 million state settlement. Meanwhile, legislators proposed a ban on the carcinogen after learning of the pollution investigation.

"We can do the right thing. It's already been banned at a facility, that's because it's dangerous, TCE," DFL Sen. Chuck Wiger said.

It didn't pass, but Gov. Tim Walz did approve funding for additional staff to work on phasing out TCE, evaluating alternatives and assessing health risks.

"We felt it wasn't good enough to do nothing," Walz said.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency provided 2017 data that shows 102 companies reported emissions of TCE. Since then, WCCO has learned nine of those companies stopped using the chemical. Another three have committed to reducing their use of TCE.

The MPCA ordered Water Gremlin to stop using TCE. The manufacturing plant emitted exponentially higher levels of TCE than any other company.

Here's a map of where TCE is still being used at levels under the state health benchmark.

(credit: MapHub)

Walz says he wants every company here to look at an alternative.

"I think with TCE the scientific and medical evidence is there. We just need to move away from this. This is too toxic, it's too dangerous and in this case it's been proven," Walz said.

The more than a million dollars in funding over four years is designed to assist companies in finding a safer product.

"We have two inspectors, two additional inspectors. We put the money in there to form the panel to understand what it's going to take to make sure, one, it doesn't happen again and how do we figure out the situation with Water Gremlin," Walz said.

Legislators say they're committed to making Minnesota the first state to ban TCE this next session.

"We're committed to keep working on this. This should in no way be a partisan issue, it's just the right thing to do," DFL Sen. Jason Isaacson said.

The Environmental Protection Agency is concerned about TCE and is proposing a ban on certain uses of the chemical:

"EPA is evaluating the chemical as part of the first ten chemicals undergoing chemical risk evaluations under amended TSCA. EPA will issue a final risk evaluation for TCE by June of 2020. If the agency finds that there are unreasonable risks posed by the chemical, EPA must take prompt action to address those risks under the stringent timelines required by TSCA," the EPA said in a statement.

WCCO will follow the issue this legislative session.

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