Water Gremlin Site - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

Water Gremlin Site

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.

MDH and the Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) took court action in late October 2019 to shut down Water Gremlin's lead casting operations due to 12 cases of elevated blood lead levels (EBLs) in children of Water Gremlin employees. More information for past and current employees - including information about how to sign up for free lead testing of homes - can be found on the MDH Water Gremlin: Take-home Lead webpage.

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.

New!

This document provides an update on the chemical 1,4-dioxane found in groundwater near Water Gremlin, including information on additional testing of private wells this summer.

trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene (t-DCE) is currently being used at Water Gremlin as an alternative to TCE.

This document describes how MDH uses t-DCE toxicology studies and risk assessment to develop air guidance values, the Water Gremlin t-DCE air monitoring data, and MDH’s conclusions about Water Gremlin’s t-DCE emissions and health risk. The trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene (t-DCE) in Air (PDF) information sheet describes updated MDH air risk assessment advice (RAA) for t-DCE. The 2020 RAA has values for two exposure durations: a chronic (up to a lifetime) value of 20 µg/m3 and a subchronic (greater than 30 days to up to 8 years) value of 200 µg/m3. The t-DCE air toxicological summary is also available in the Air Guidance Values Table.

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.

Health Assessment Series: 2009-2018 TCE in Air Maps (PDF) contains maps of estimates of TCE in air from the Water Gremlin facility from 2009-2018, based on MPCA air dispersion modeling data. The maps were created to provide a better understanding of estimated annual average TCE concentrations over time.

While air modeling can estimate the TCE concentrations in outdoor air for specified times and locations, such estimates will differ from an individual’s actual exposure to TCE (how much TCE enters the body through breathing). The amount a person breathed in would be highly variable, depending on how much time they spent in different locations and what the TCE concentrations were during those times. In addition, other factors such as body size, breathing rate, type and level of activities, amount of time spent indoors vs outdoors, etc. could all influence how much TCE a person was exposed to. Estimated air concentrations provide limited information about real exposures individuals might have received.

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.

MDH does not expect health effects to occur in the community from Water Gremlin’s past or current emissions of t-DCE. The Health Assessment Series: trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene in Air and Health(PDF)- May 14, 2020 document describes how MDH uses t-DCE toxicology studies and risk assessment to develop air guidance values, the Water Gremlin t-DCE air monitoring data, and MDH’s conclusions about Water Gremlin’s t-DCE emissions and health risk.

The trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene (t-DCE) in Air (PDF) information sheet describes updated MDH air risk assessment advice (RAA) for t-DCE. The 2020 RAA has values for two exposure durations: a chronic (up to a lifetime) value of 20 µg/m3 and a subchronic (greater than 30 days to up to 8 years) value of 200 µg/m3. The t-DCE air toxicological summary is also available in the Air Guidance Values Table.

There is no evidence that drinking water from public water supplies or private wells were affected by TCE releases from the Water Gremlin facility. Low levels of 1,4-dioxane were detected in three private wells. These detections are not a health concern. Additional private well sampling will be conducted in the summer of 2020.

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 Wednesday, 20-May-2020 15:32:22 CDT