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State hits Water Gremlin over new hazardous waste violations

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A sign for Water Gremlin is seen.
A sign for Water Gremlin, a White Bear Township, Minn., fishing tackle and battery component maker, is seen on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. The company has been the focus of state enforcement action for months, most recently for tests that found a solvent was leaking out of the factory and into soil.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Updated: 7:35 p.m.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has issued a new order to the Water Gremlin lead products company, citing new violations of hazardous waste regulations.

The manufacturer let the chemical TCE and used motor oil leak into soils under its White Bear Township building; filtration equipment used to remove soot and ash from exhaust fumes was releasing lead-contaminated used oil onto the factory’s parking lot, the agency said.

The order was sent to the company at the end of business Tuesday and is separate from orders from the state’s Department of Labor and Industry, which together with the state Department of Health shut down Water Gremlin last week.

The MPCA order is also separate from a shutdown of Water Gremlin’s lead coating operations, dating from August, said agency spokesperson Darin Broton. The 70-year-old company makes lead fishing sinkers and battery terminals.

“During three inspections that the MPCA made in September, we found violations of how the company was treating hazardous waste products, whether that being lead, whether that’s used oil,” Broton said. “We had serious concerns that the company was not treating a hazardous waste product like a hazardous waste product.”

The order lists 20 steps the company has to take, but does not immediately shut down the plant, as orders from the labor department and a district court judge did last week.

“We are not shutting the company down today, but it is a legal proceeding.” Broton said. “So, if the company does not meet those obligations set out in the administrative order, we do have tools in our toolbox that we can hold the company accountable.”

In a statement, a Water Gremlin said some of MPCA’s allegations are “factually incorrect” and that the company will cooperate with the agency. 

“It appears the MPCA is now interpreting hazardous waste requirements differently than Ramsey County. …  Water Gremlin is assessing the MPCA’s interpretations, as a number would result in unintended consequences, such as lead oxide being disposed of rather than recycled as per standard industry practices,” the statement read. 

Production at Water Gremlin resumed just before 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, according to a company spokesperson. The company issued an update on its response to last week’s shutdown, prompted by lead poisoning among the children of workers at the plant. The company appeared in court Wednesday on that matter.

“The health and well-being of our employees and their families is important to us,” the statement reads, citing a decrease in blood lead levels among employees. “We are committed to continuing our robust hygiene policies for the safety of our employees and their families.”