State temporarily shuts down Water Gremlin after workers' children found with elevated blood lead levels
WHITE BEAR TOWNSHIP, Minn. (FOX 9) - The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry and the Minnesota Department of Health have temporarily shut down the lead production operations of Water Gremlin in White Bear Township after tests found elevated blood lead levels in the children of some Water Gremlin workers.
DLI issued a temporary order Monday following an on-site inspection on Saturday that found the conditions and practices at Water Gremlin, a manufacturing company that specializes in fishing sinkers and lead acid battery terminals, related the workers’ lead exposure and contamination were putting their health and that of their families at risk.
According to the health department, Ramsey County Public Health investigators found at least 12 children of workers at Water Gremlin had elevated blood levels likely linked to “take-home lead”—lead dust that accumulates on workers’ bodies, clothing, shoes and personal items and that workers’ unknowingly bring home where it can be ingested by family members.
Ramsey County had previously been working with Water Gremlin to address the issue of take home lead, but the latest tests showed the company's efforts were "insufficient," state officials said in a news release.
In a statement, Water Gremlin said it enhanced its employee industrial hygiene policies in 2018 and launched an awareness campaign about the importance of employee hygiene practices.
“We were saddened to learn today that the enhanced campaign did not result in positive changes for some of our employees’ families,” the company said.
The company said it routinely monitors employee blood lead levels and that none of their employees have blood lead levels above OSHA action levels.
DLI's order expires after 72 hours, so health and labor officials asked a Ramsey County District Court judge for an injunction to keep the plant’s lead production closed until the company takes steps to prevent the lead poisoning of workers’ children.
Ramsey County Public Health, MDH and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development staff members will be at the Vadnais Heights Sports Center from 12-4 p.m. on Monday to provide support for potentially displaced Water Gremlin workers and arrange lead testing for workers and their families.
WATER GREMLIN STATEMENT
Statement from Carl Dubois, vice president of international manufacturing for Water Gremlin:
Water Gremlin baselines existing blood lead levels for new employees and routinely monitors employee blood lead levels to ensure that we have a safe working environment. None of our employees are above OSHA action levels for blood lead.
Any lapse in employee industrial hygiene practices is the top contributing factor to an increase in an employees’ blood lead level and the inadvertent home exposure. To ensure the safety of our employees and their families, hygiene training and policies have long been in place. If necessary, the company will utilize disciplinary action for employees who do not follow those policies. Since we first engaged with Ramsey County in August 2018, Water Gremlin has enhanced these policies and implemented a continuous employee awareness campaign to reaffirm their importance.
We were saddened to learn today that the enhanced campaign did not result in positive changes for some of our employees’ families. We are working with Ramsey County, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Department of Labor (OSHA) to immediately implement protective actions.