A Ramsey County judge overseeing the cleanup of toxic lead dust at Water Gremlin Co. has ordered the White Bear Township manufacturer to implement short-term safety measures, along with a permanent solution to protect workers within one year.
At a hearing Friday, District Judge Leonardo Castro ruled that the company must begin immediate remediation plans to clean up lead contamination in employees’ vehicles, test their homes for lead and carry out abatement if needed.
A more detailed long-term plan for controlling lead dust at the plant and preventing it from migrating off-site must also be completed for the plant to remain operational.
The move comes three weeks after state regulators temporarily shuttered the plant following a weekend inspection that showed continued industrial hygiene problems. Officials from the state Department of Labor and Industry blamed the alarming levels of lead being tracked home from the plant for sickening 12 children of employees.
The agency, along with the Minnesota Department of Health, issued a joint statement Friday promising to continue vigilant monitoring of Water Gremlin’s progress.
“It is essential that no lead leave the facility where it may continue to poison children,” their statement said.
The Health Department will continue offering free lead testing for employees and their families.
Lead is a dangerous metal, particularly for children, that can lower IQs, slow development and cause miscarriages in pregnant women.
Under the evolving lead-control plan, Water Gremlin will bring in two 40-foot decontamination trailers containing lockers that employees can use to enter and exit the plant.
It also will institute a practice of employees wiping themselves down before exiting to ensure they aren’t carrying out lead dust, shavings and filings.
Eventually, the company plans to upgrade the plant to create modern changing facilities with showers.
Two other Minnesota companies manufacture lead products: Federal Ammunition in Anoka and Gopher Resource in Eagan. Both have showers to decontaminate workers, like those the state wants Water Gremlin to use.
The Water Gremlin factory, which makes fishing gear and lead terminals for car batteries, employs 313 people. It has a history of pollution problems.
This month, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) hit Water Gremlin with a scathing administrative order accusing it of failing for years to comply with hazardous waste regulations. The hazardous waste included used oil and other materials that contained lead and trichloroethylene, a cancer-causing industrial solvent the company used for decades before it was ordered to stop earlier this year in one of the largest enforcement actions in MPCA history.
Water Gremlin executive Carl Dubois disputed the accuracy of the allegations.
“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,” he recently told the Star Tribune. “Water Gremlin intends to continue working cooperatively with the MPCA.”
Staff writer Jennifer Bjorhus contributed to this report. Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648