Water Gremlin Site - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

Water Gremlin Site

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) are conducting environmental investigations for an industrial solvent called TCE used by Water Gremlin, a manufacturer in White Bear Township. The investigation found the company had been emitting significantly more TCE than allowed by its MPCA permit. As a result, people living in neighborhoods near the facility were exposed to TCE levels above the MDH air guidance value for TCE.

For questions about the site investigation, contact MPCA at 651-757-2998, email MPCA at water.gremlin.mpca@state.mn.us, or visit the MPCA website at Water Gremlin: trichloroethylene (TCE) area of concern

About TCE health risks

Concentrations of TCE that are typically encountered in outdoor (ambient) air are far below levels where health effects have been demonstrated in people.

The MDH Health-Based Values (HBVs) are action levels developed using available toxicity information. The HBV for TCE in ambient air is 2 µg/m3. The HBVs are intentionally very protective and are used to set limits on facility emissions to protect the surrounding community. The HBVs are also much lower than the occupational standards for workplaces where the chemicals are used.

Animal studies show developmental effects, such as increases in fetal heart defects and effects on the developing immune system, may occur with TCE exposures. Animal studies also indicate that exposure to TCE can result in effects to immune system and to the kidneys and liver. Because of the potential for developmental effects, MDH often recommends quick action to reduce or eliminate TCE exposures above the HBV among pregnant women and young children. However, there is no conclusive evidence from epidemiologic studies that TCE exposure causes developmental effects in humans.

TCE may also increase the risk of certain types of cancers (kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and liver cancer) based on evidence from high concentration TCE exposures in occupational and animal studies (tens to hundreds of thousands of times higher than typical community exposures from air).

For more information about TCE, see Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Your Health.

For more information about MDH Guidance for Air, see the MDH Guidance for Trichloroethylene (TCE) in Air information sheet (PDF) and/or the technical document for Health Based Guidance for Air: Trichloroethylene (TCE) (PDF)

About trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene (t-1,2-DCE) use at Water Gremlin site

T-1,2-DCE is a chemical primarily used as a degreasing agent in many commercial and industrial processes. It is the principal component in commercially available FluoSolvWS® degreaser, which is currently used as the alternative to TCE at the Water Gremlin Plant in White Bear Township.

At the request of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) developed a guidance value in air for t-1,2-DCE of 70 μg/m3 (μg/m3 is a microgram of a chemical per cubic meter of air volume), which is expected to be protective of public health for long-term exposure. The guidance is being used by MPCA to drive site actions until pollution control equipment is installed at the Water Gremlin facility later this spring. This value was developed for this specific situation and is not intended for application to other sites or circumstances without further review.

For more information about t-1,2-DCE, see Air guidance for trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene use at Water Gremlin.

What to know about environmental exposures and health

  • In most scenarios where TCE was released into a community, a lack of environmental measurements and other information about exposures people experienced makes it very difficult to assess individual health risks.
  • In the case of the release from Water Gremlin, amounts of TCE that people actually breathed over time are unknown and impossible to estimate accurately. This is due to the variabilitiy in space and time due to weather, the mobility of people coming and going throughout the day and unknown rate and variations of TCE use and emissions over time. For example, because the facility did not operate continuously, patterns of possible TCE exposures in the community are hard to estimate.

Health Assessment Series

This series is intended to address community members' questions about the Water Gremlin site. As new topics are covered, they will be posted below.

  1. Water Gremlin Health Assessment Series: Drinking Water (PDF) - March 6, 2019

Contact for more information

A Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Collaboration.

Updated Tuesday, 23-Apr-2019 14:42:43 CDT