MPCA imposes $7 million in fines for Water Gremlin

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The state of Minnesota imposed one of its largest air pollution fines against a fishing tackle company Friday.

The state is forcing Water Gremlin to pay more than $7 million in fines and restoration for the illegal release of a powerful solvent.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency say Water Gremlin has been releasing excessive amounts of the chemical trichloroethylene into air for years.

“Not only was this a permit violation, it put people’s health at risk,” said Laura Bishop, the MPCA Commissioner. “This should not have happened.”

The settlement agreement imposes a $4.5 million civil fine. It also requires corrective equipment at the plant totaling $1 million.

Also, the company must pay for environmental projects. In all, the fines add up to $7 million.

The settlement also requires Water Gremlin to no longer use trichloroethylene in its manufacturing processes and it has also agreed to plant 1,500 trees in public spaces around White Bear Lake, Gem Lake and White Bear Township.

The MPCA says Water Gremlin failed to report the release of 759 tons of volatile organic compounds since 2002. TCE is a volatile organic known to cause cancer.

Based on air flow models, the Department of Health created an area of concern map around the facility.

“What we’re concerned about is that the community was exposed for this period of time that could have increased their risk for these health outcomes that associated with TCE,” said Jim Kelly, of the Minnesota Department of Health.

So far, TCE has not shown up in any surface or ground water supplies in homes around the plant, but the MPCA will place air monitors such as these around the Water Gremlin to check for more chemical releases.

At least one resident says she’s satisfied.

“To me, it sounds like the Pollution Control Agency is going to be doing a much better job of monitoring air,” said Jan Hubinger, a resident. “I had some concerns about the water, but they have been testing the water. They are going to test the individual homeowner wells, so I’m feeling OK.”

The air monitoring will continue through at least 2024 to make sure Water Gremlin stays in compliance.

The fine against Water Gremlin is the second largest air pollution fine in state history. The largest fine, of $8 million, was against the Pine Bend Refinery.