MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Only on WCCO: Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz calls a manufacturing plant with a history of toxic pollution a bad neighbor. He’s talking about Water Gremlin in White Bear Township.
After paying $7 million in fines and corrective action as part of a state settlement earlier this year, the company is under fire for more pollution violations. In his first interview on this months-long case, Walz spoke with our Jennifer Mayerle.
Water Gremlin has been at the center of a pollution investigation since Walz took office in January. He says it was on his radar during the campaign.
“First of all, it’s unacceptable. Our responsibility, mine as Governor and legislators and those that are entrusted, public safety is a top priority,” Walz said.
The manufacturing plant that makes fishing sinkers and battery terminal posts emitted significantly more than its permit allowed of the chemical, TCE, known to cause cancer and birth defects. Inaccurate reporting escaped Minnesota Pollution Control Agency inspectors for more than 15 years. The MPCA reports to Walz. Last month, it ordered the partial shutdown of the company when Water Gremlin couldn’t control emissions of a new chemical and withheld news that other pollution was more widespread.
“In the case of this company, Water Gremlin, it’s been hard to get them to come forward and to put things out. We have tried to work with them as you’ve seen, but my patience is done,” Walz said.
WCCO’s own investigation found the company attempted to circumvent the system. It exposed Water Gremlin’s plan to move its coating operation to Wisconsin and we followed as a truck left the White Bear Township facility and drove across the state line to Hudson, unloading equipment there. The Wisconsin company contracted to do the work pulled out after WCCO shared Water Gremlin’s history in Minnesota.
“It appears to me on face value that they thought they could go somewhere and do the same thing and pollute,” Walz said.
Since our report, environmental leaders from both states are now discussing ways to increase communication sharing.
At the same time, the independent legislative auditor told WCCO he’ll investigate whether the MPCA did all it could have in the Water Gremlin case. The Governor supports his administration’s actions.
“We can do better certainly. I think we always can, but I don’t question the work that’s being done. It’s been a very aggressive approach, we’ve done things right,” Walz said.
And he realizes at the core is a concerned community, fearing for their health. We’ve shared some of their stories.
“This shouldn’t happen to anybody. They’re right to be, I think, angry. I know that they’re concerned,” Walz said.
Water Gremlin says it is working to get back into compliance to restart operations in the neighborhood. MPCA would first have to sign off on a new plan.
“We have these regulations in place. They have to be followed and if you can get there, you can do business. I guess the question will be now is have we gone so far down the road, is the trust broken,” Walz said.
The community has been asking, and the Governor says he will meet with them in the coming weeks. Walz and MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop also want to meet with Water Gremlin.