MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A WCCO investigation found a manufacturing plant with repeated pollution violations has found a way to keep operating.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency called Water Gremlin's actions a public health concern and ordered it to stop using a toxic chemical.
Only on WCCO, Jennifer Mayerle uncovered documents that indicate the White Bear Township company circumvented state authorities and moved across state lines.
A semi-trailer with the numbers 48700 sat outside Water Gremlin for hours. Mayerle watched as a driver with a blue cab later picked it up.
The transport happened in the midst of accusations of new pollution violations against Water Gremlin -- and the same day the MPCA ordered the company to stop its coating process at its White Bear Township facility.
The process uses the chemical DCE. And the company admits it was releasing pollution below its facility, at higher levels than what's safe, and doesn't know the extent and magnitude of the release -- all in violation of its permit.
Water Gremlin makes fishing sinkers, and is the leading supplier of battery terminals in the country.
Earlier this year, it paid the second-largest fine in Minnesota history for releasing elevated and unsafe levels of the toxic chemical TCE into the air and surrounding neighborhood for more than 15 years. TCE is known to cause cancer and birth defects.
The revelation rattled the community. For months, Mayerle listened as they shared their real health concerns, and more recently, demonstrated outside the plant.
Mayerle tracked the truck that left the manufacturing plant in White Bear Township across the state line. It drove about 30 miles east and into Hudson, Wisconsin. It pulled into the back of an office strip in the name of Hudson-based company, Hi Tec Finishing. Mayerle watched as crews unloaded equipment off the truck and moved it into the building.
WCCO discovered Hi Tec is helping Water Gremlin. Its permit application with Wisconsin's DNR, the regulatory agency there, reveals, "Hi-Tec Finishing is working with Water Gremlin, a Minnesota company, in an effort to take over their coating process."
It goes on to say the battery terminals are being manufactured in Minnesota, then will be shipped via truck to its new location in Hudson -- an area with apartments, homes and a park nearby.
"I'm very much dismayed. It's catching us by surprise. I appreciate you alerting us to this," said Hudson Mayor Rich O'Connor.
Hi Tec told Mayerle Water Gremlin approached them several months ago. It applied for the permit in late July, a month after Water Gremlin knew it had new pollution problems in Minnesota, and just days after it alerted the MPCA to them. That was another violation of its agreement. The permit was approved August 6.
Mayor O'Connor says he'll look into how this happened, and what authority the city has to do something about it.
"Obviously they're here for a reason. It's because they got shut down in Minnesota for their environmental impact. If they're doing the same thing here, we don't want them here," O'Connor said.
A representative for Water Gremlin gave WCCO this statement:
Water Gremlin confirms that the Wisconsin DNR has issued the permit. We believe we are operating within our permit and the terms of the stipulation agreement. Most importantly, we have accelerated changes within the facility and accelerated testing on our site. This includes conducting tests before they were requested or required by the MPCA. We continue to see data confirming that we are operating in a way that keeps our neighbors and employees safe.
Representatives from Hi Tec in Hudson said Water Gremlin is still moving equipment to their new facility, and they are permitted to start as soon as it's ready.
The Wisconsin DNR said it was not aware of the issues in Minnesota, but said they wouldn't factor into the application approval.
In a statement to WCCO, an MPCA representative said it's frustrated with Water Gremlin.
Water Gremlin broke the public's trust when it failed to accurately report more than 15 years of emission data. Now we have learned that the company knew about serious contamination for 40 days before reporting it to the MPCA," said the representative. "The MPCA will continue to hold Water Gremlin accountable. While Water Gremlin can choose to locate parts of its business in other states, we know that the great majority of Minnesota businesses respect and safeguard the environmental protections Minnesotans demand.
MPCA is holding a community meeting Tuesday, August 27 at 7 p.m. at Central Middle School in White Bear Lake to answer questions and provide the latest updates on Water Gremlin in Minnesota. WCCO will be there.
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