Wisconsin company severs ties with Water Gremlin over chemical concerns

A Wisconsin company is severing ties with White Bear Township-based company Water Gremlin, which has faced pushback for pollution concerns.

Hi-Tec Finishing in Hudson had started a contract with Water Gremlin, which manufactures fishing sinkers and lead acid battery terminals, to process certain products using Water Gremlin equipment, according to a statement from a Hi-Tec official. Following a recent media report, Hi-Tec has now terminated the contract and will not be working with Water Gremlin.

"When it entered into the contract with Water Gremlin, Hi-Tec was unaware that the chemicals used to process the Water Gremlin products are alleged to be unsafe and unhealthy," read the statement.

At a public meeting Tuesday, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency faced push back from residents, many of whom want to see the company shut down altogether. Currently, the state has ordered the company temporarily halt coating operations and submit to stringent reporting and monitoring requirements.

"I want Water Gremlin to be accountable, I want them to take responsibility and I want them to conduct business in the right way but unfortunately I haven't seen them do that for 17 plus years," said Leigh Thiel who lives less than a mile from the plant.

In January, an investigation by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found that Water Gremlin had failed to report accurate emission data for 15 years. The manufacturer had exposed the community to excessive levels of an industrial solvent called trichloroethylene (TCE). Long-term exposure could create negative health impacts. The MPCA later fined Water Gremlin $7 million.

In March, Water Gremlin switched to a solvent known as tDCE. In July, the MPCA was notified that DCE was now also showing up in the soil below the building.

"The DCE in the soil--that's happened since March when they were supposed to be under heavy oversight by the MPCA," said Thiel. "If that can happen, what are they capable of when MPCA steps away?"

Tuesday, state officials assured neighbors that the drinking water was safe, despite finding lead and traces of TCE in groundwater near the plant. Officials claimed they tested nearby wells and the city groundwater and haven't found chemical contamination.

"Citizens are concerned. We're concerned. We need to get to the bottom of this and ensure that any health risks are identified and mitigated for this community," said MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop.

White Bear Township residents have also filed a lawsuit against the MPCA for how it handled the case, claiming the agency refused to release data about the company.