MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the wake of an investigation into elevated lead blood levels in children of employees at White Bear Township’s Water Gremlin, the company was ordered to temporarily cease operations relating to its lead products.
The Department of Labor and Industry issued the order Monday after an on-site visit to the company Saturday. Commissioner of the DLI, Nancy Leppink, said the inspection found conditions and practices relating to lead exposure that were deemed to be a cause for concern.
Because the order was to expire after 72 hours, Leppink asked a court to extend it to allow time for the agency to ensure the company has adequately remedied the situation.
While WCCO has long investigated various potential pollution violations at the company, WCCO’s Jennifer Mayerle reported last week that plant workers have been bringing lead home, exposing their homes and families. At least 12 children of Water Gremlin employees were found to have elevated lead blood levels.
As part of that investigation, WCCO discovered Water Gremlin has a history of issues with lead and employees. Minnesota Department of Health data over the last five years shows more than 75% of employees tested had blood lead levels over 5 micrograms per deciliter — the level at which health officials get involved. A smaller percentage had levels over 25 micrograms per deciliter. WCCO found lead level problems with employees date back 30 years.
In 2015, MnOSHA found two violations at Water Gremlin also related to lead. Documents show MnOHSA found Water Gremlin did not provide or require personal protection equipment for temporary workers exposed to lead and inspectors found accumulations of lead on several surfaces.
Earlier this year, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency ordered the company to shut down a part of the plant that was releasing TCE, a chemical known to cause cancer.
Shortly after the Minnesota Department of Health announced DLI’s order Tuesday, Gov. Tim Walz issued a statement:
As governor, the most important part of my job is protecting the health of Minnesotans. We have evidence that unsafe conditions at Water Gremlin’s facility resulted in workers unknowingly bringing home lead dust—causing lead poisoning in their children. This is heartbreaking. It is unacceptable. And it is not the first time Water Gremlin has jeopardized the health of Minnesotans. That is why we took action today requiring Water Gremlin to immediately halt operations. We will continue to do everything in our power to protect children from this serious public health threat and prevent any further wrongdoing by this company in Minnesota.
Carl Dubois, vice president of international manufacturing for Water Gremlin, issued a statement to WCCO Monday afternoon, regarding the latest action taken by the state:
Water Gremlin baselines existing blood lead levels for new employees and routinely monitors employee blood lead levels to ensure that we have a safe working environment. None of our employees are above OSHA action levels for blood lead.
Any lapse in employee industrial hygiene practices is the top contributing factor to an increase in an employees’ blood lead level and the inadvertent home exposure. To ensure the safety of our employees and their families, hygiene training and policies have long been in place. If necessary, the company will utilize disciplinary action for employees who do not follow those policies. Since we first engaged with Ramsey County in August 2018, Water Gremlin has enhanced these policies and implemented a continuous employee awareness campaign to reaffirm their importance.
We were saddened to learn today that the enhanced campaign did not result in positive changes for some of our employees’ families. We are working with Ramsey County, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Department of Labor (OSHA) to immediately implement protective actions.
Click here to read more about WCCO’s investigations into Water Gremlin.