MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A community watchdog group formed after learning a manufacturing plant exposed them to cancer-causing pollution for years.

Water Gremlin’s neighbors in White Bear Township seek answers and accountability. The company agreed to pay a $7 million fine and take corrective action in a state settlement.

Inside White Bear Lake City Hall, the Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group meets twice a month.

“We really wanted to come together as a group so that our voice could be amplified,” NCCG member Leigh Thiel said.

Their common concern is that Water Gremlin, a company that makes fishing sinkers and battery terminal posts, released elevated levels of the chemical TCE into the air for at least 17 years. It’s known to cause birth defects and cancer.

“I feel like I’m going to be worried for the rest of my days about whether or not something is going to happen to my children,” NCCG member Sheri Smith said.

RELATED: A Community Shares Concerns Over Cancer Cases

They united in March after Water Gremlin and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency came to terms in a settlement. And their group continues to grow.

“When something significant happens to your community like this … it’s important to step up to the plate and make sure that you’re living in a safe place, and you’re doing your part to make sure that that happens,” NCCG member Kelly Tapkan said.

The citizens group worked with legislators to ban TCE in the state among proposing other bills. And while they didn’t pass last session, staunch support from legislators remains.

“We will ban TCE. It’s banned now at Water Gremlin, and if it poses a risk in this area, which it has, and we’re trying to figure out what happened, what about the rest of the state?” DFL Sen. Chuck Wiger said.

Part of the issue is under Water Gremlin’s previous permit. The company would self-report levels of the emitted chemical. The MPCA found, for decades the reporting was wrong.

“To totally rely on a system that is based on the honor system, where in this case it did not work, it puts people at risk,” Wiger said.

That’s why DFL Representative Peter Fischer, who is on the Environment Committee, has also stepped in.

“It’s revealed a deeper flaw within the system, and it’s trying to figure out how do we go in and try to address it,” Fischer said.

The neighborhood group keeps digging and advocating for themselves, and they said they won’t stop until their questions are answered.

“We’re very concerned about the health of our citizens, of our family, our friends, and we want to make sure that moving forward there’s change in a way that protects our community and those citizens,” Tapkan said.

Water Gremlin apologized for creating health concerns. The health department reviewed cancer rates. It found those near the plant were “virtually identical” to those across the Twin Cities.

If you would like to attend the next community meeting, here is a link to the NCCG website.

Jennifer Mayerle

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