Water Gremlin Site - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

Water Gremlin Site

MDH and the Department of Labor and Industry took action to cease operations related to the industrial production of lead products at Water Gremlin, a company in White Bear Township that has caused lead poisoning in children. St. Paul - Ramsey County Public Health investigators determined that at least 12 children of workers at Water Gremlin had elevated blood lead levels, including two children with blood lead levels above the level of 15 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). Blood lead levels above this threshold are considered by health officials to constitute a particularly serious health risk for children.

Water Gremlin employees: Visit Ramsey County’s Help for Water Gremlin Employees webpage for more information.

Take-Home Lead Information for Water Gremlin Workers - Spanish Audio Version (WAV file)

Take-Home Lead Information for Water Gremlin Workers - Karen Audio Version (WAV file)

Background

In January 2019, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) discovered that the Water Gremlin Company, located at 4400 Otter Lake Road in White Bear Township, had been emitting significantly more trichloroethylene (TCE) into the air than allowed by their MPCA air permit. As a result, some people living and working nearby were exposed to TCE concentrations in the air above the MDH health-based value for TCE. TCE use at the Water Gremlin facility stopped in January 2019.

Current information about site activities can be found on the MPCA website at Water Gremlin: trichloroethylene (TCE) area of concern.

MDH’s role is to evaluate public health risks at sites or facilities where chemicals have been released into the environment and to help answer community questions about environmental contaminants and health.

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In Progress:

MDH is currently working on a comprehensive Public Health Assessment for all potential routes of exposure related to any environmental contamination from the Water Gremlin operations in response to community concerns. MDH will include data collected from the investigation at the Water Gremlin facility this summer as well as information available through the MPCA air permitting process.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Concentrations of TCE in air resulting from the Water Gremlin releases were below levels where health effects have been demonstrated in people. However, TCE exposure may increase the risk of certain types of cancers (kidney, possibly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and liver) over a lifetime, based on studies of workers or animals breathing very high levels of TCE. Animal studies show that the main health concerns with exposure to TCE may be associated with an increase in heart defects in a developing fetus, and effects on the immune system and kidneys.

MDH develops health-based values (HBVs). An HBV is a concentration of a chemical that is likely to pose little or no risk to human health.

For more information about MDH's HBV for TCE in air, see Guidance for Trichloroethylene (TCE) in Air (PDF)

MDH completed a report that documents what is known about releases of TCE into the air over time from the Water Gremlin facility and the potential for health risks from exposures that might have occurred.

Health Assessment Series: Trichloroethylene (TCE) Air Emissions and Health (PDF) - September 24, 2019

TCE use at the Water Gremlin facility stopped in January 2019. Therefore, exposure of community members to TCE from the facility also stopped at that time.

MPCA’s website Water Gremlin: trichloroethylene (TCE) area of concern contains a map showing the area where the 2018 annual average air concentrations surrounding the Water Gremlin facility were estimated to be above the MDH health-based value (HBV) of 2 µg/m3. The estimated amount of TCE released into the air varied over the years, with most years being significantly lower than in 2018. The HBVs incorporate multiple safety factors intended to protect against human health impacts. The HBVs are based on the assumption that one is breathing the air 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for up to a lifetime. Actual exposures that people receive typically tend to be less than estimated air concentrations due to the mobility of the population.

Exposures for workers inside the facility may not have been the same as for people who lived in the area. Workplace safety is regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and workers at the facility who have concerns are encouraged to contact OSHA at 651-284-5050 or via the contact information listed on the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry's webpage Minnesota OSHA Compliance.

In Progress:

MDH is currently working on a comprehensive Public Health Assessment for all potential routes of exposure related to any environmental contamination from the Water Gremlin operations in response to community concerns. MDH will include data collected from the investigation at the Water Gremlin facility this summer as well as information available through the MPCA air permitting process.

Currently, t-1,2-DCE is being used as an alternative to TCE at Water Gremlin. At the request of MPCA, MDH reviewed toxicity data for t-1,2-DCE and developed an air guidance value that is expected to be protective of public health for long-term exposure.

For more information about t-1,2-DCE and the MDH air guidance value, see Air guidance for trans-1,2-dichloroethylene use at Water Gremlin (PDF) - April 22, 2019.

There is no evidence that drinking water from public water supplies or private wells are affected by contaminant releases from the Water Gremlin facility. MDH sampled private wells in the area and detected no contaminants.

More information can be found in the following reports:

TCE and trans-1,2-DCE were found in soil vapor beneath the Water Gremlin facility and are now being exhausted to carbon filters to remove the contaminants before discharging to the air. Nearby homes are not affected by the soil vapor contamination based on data collected to date. Additional sampling will be conducted during winter conditions to confirm that vapor is not a concern in the neighborhood.

More information can be found in the following report:

Data from the Minnesota Cancer Reporting System (MCRS) was used to examine cancer rates among individuals living in the census tracts surrounding the Water Gremlin facility at the time of their diagnosis by comparison with cancer rates in the seven county Twin Cities metropolitan area. The data is from the most recent 10-year period for which complete data were available (2007-2016). Overall cancer rates in the area of analysis were virtually identical to Metro-area rates.

For more information, see Water Gremlin Health Assessment Series: Public Health Data Summary (PDF) - April 24, 2019.

The full report on cancer occurrence in the White Bear Township, White Bear Lake, and Gem Lake areas is on the MDH website at Cancer Occurrence: White Bear Township, White Bear Lake and Gem Lake Area Five Census Tracts, 2007-2016 (PDF) - March 28, 2019.

Animal studies suggest that for women exposed to TCE in the first eight weeks of pregnancy (when the baby’s heart is forming), there may be a greater risk of fetal heart defects. However, there is no conclusive evidence from human studies that TCE exposure causes effects to a developing baby.

MDH reviewed data from the Minnesota Birth Defects Information System. Based on the timeline of reported TCE emissions from the Water Gremlin facility, about 400 infants were born annually to women living in this area at the time of delivery for the 2006 to 2017 birth cohorts. Of these, about 3 infants per yearly cohort (range: 0-7) were diagnosed with congenital heart defects. These observed numbers do not appear different from expected numbers (range: 2-5) based on prevalence estimates available in Minnesota.

For more information, see Water Gremlin Health Assessment Series: Public Health Data Summary (PDF) - April 24, 2019.

Airborne lead exposures from the facility are not thought to be a concern to the public.

MDH reviewed data from the Blood Lead Information System (BLIS). There was no significant difference in children’s elevated blood lead level (EBLL) rates in zip code 55110 versus a comparison area. However, addresses of 3.6% of children with an EBLL were matched to addresses of known Water Gremlin employees who were also tested for lead and had their place of work recorded in the BLIS database. MDH is currently working with St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health to address exposures to these children from take-home lead from the Water Gremlin facility.

For more information, see Water Gremlin Health Assessment Series: Public Health Data Summary (PDF) - April 24, 2019.

MDH is not currently collecting health information for a study and does not have plans for a health study for this site.

For more information on health studies including the challenges, alternatives, and more resources, see Community Health Studies and Environmental Contamination (PDF) - May 13, 2019.

Contact for More Information

Updated Friday, 22-Nov-2019 10:43:06 CST