Live

Watch CBSN Live

Minnesota company may have leaked carcinogen TCE into air for years

Company may have leaked carcinogen into air

Minneapolis — A Minnesota business may have been emitting a cancer-causing chemical into the air for a decade or more. Manufacturing company Water Gremlin is located White Bear Township, north of St. Paul, near several lakes and residential neighborhoods.

The Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency are investigating after the company was found to be releasing high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) into the air, CBS Minnesota station WCCO reports.

Breathing in high concentrations of the carcinogen has been linked to kidney cancer, liver cancer and lymphoma. It can also impact the immune and central nervous systems, and it can cause heart defects in babies, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

John Bartholomew has lived near Water Gremlin for more than 30 years. About a month ago, he found out the air he has been breathing may have been contaminated with a cancer-causing chemical.

"We want answers. The whole neighborhood wants answers," Bartholomew said.

Founded in 1949, Water Gremlin makes fishing sinkers and battery terminal posts. The company has used the chemical TCE since the 1970s to clean and coat those posts, WCCO-TV reports. The business was supposed to have pollution control equipment in place to remove the chemical from the air before it left the building, but that equipment hasn't been working since at least 2009.

"Our concern is that this has had some health impacts on people in the community," said Jeff Smith of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

The facility was checked several times a year throughout this time period, but investigators didn't notice the flaw and the company didn't report it.

"We expect that a facility as sophisticated as they are ought to know their pollution equipment is not working," Smith said.

Agency officials took questions from the community Thursday night and laid out the risk factors of this exposure.

"TCE is a significant hazardous air pollutant. It is something that at the federal level they are trying to ban right now," Smith said.

The MPCA was made aware than the company violated the air permit back in July, but the company was only asked to shut down the coating process in late January, the station reports.

With all of this concerning information coming to light, Bartholomew says his planned move from the neighborhood may have come too late.

"My wife is retiring. I am retiring, and we were planning on selling and downsizing this summer, so it will be interesting to see what the results are from this," he said.

Water Gremlin sent WCCO-TV the following statement from Vice President of International Manufacturing Carl Dubois:

Water Gremlin has been a proud member of the White Bear Township community for more than 60 years. We employ approximately 300 people from our region and manufacture fishing sinkers and battery terminals that are distributed across the globe.

We apologize 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. We will not restart our operations until we are in full compliance with MPCA requirements.

We are grateful for our partnership with the MPCA and the Minnesota Department of Health as we work to understand this situation and safely resume our operations.

Another community meeting is scheduled for March 7.