MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The immediate future of a manufacturing plant temporarily shut down by the state could be decided on Thursday.
A judge will hear how the state says Water Gremlin in White Bear Township is putting kids in danger. A week after our story found workers were transferring lead from the factory home to their kids, the state ordered the company to halt operations.
The Governor’s office calls this is the first step to shutdown Water Gremlin indefinitely. The factory would have to make significant changes to re-open.
WCCO got a first look inside Water Gremlin, which has been under state scrutiny for months as continued pollution problems have surfaced. Daniel Huff, Minnesota’s assistant health commissioner, says the office deemed the company a public health nuisance.
“We were compelled to act, to use this dramatic authority to protect these children,” Huff said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration under the United States Department of Labor had the authority to halt production at Water Gremlin for 72 hours. Then it will be up to a judge Thursday to determine if concerns from both departments should extend that time.
“We’re asking the court to then enjoin the company not to operate until they significantly address those issues,” Huff said.
Some employees protested outside the Minnesota State Capitol Building Tuesday, saying they want to go back to work. Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink made it clear the shutdown is to protect employees. Water Gremlin has blamed the take home lead on employee hygiene.
“Employers have the responsibility of protecting the safety and health of their workers, and to prevent hazards and risk in their workplace,” Leppink said. “They are responsible.”
The Minnesota Department of Health reports employees have to walk through the facility after they’ve changed out of work clothes. They need access to showers and locker rooms so they can leave work clean, among other changes.
“If the company can show us that they can, in good faith, provide a safe workplace, we want them to re-open,” Huff said.
Huff says if they can’t, the plant will stay closed.
The next steps? The attorney general’s office said the parties will argue back and forth about the shutdown during Thursday morning’s hearing. The judge could rule right then or take some time. Keep in mind: The 72-hour temporary shutdown expires a few hours after the hearing.
There is some positive news for employees. A day after WCCO reported the company would make them take vacation time in order to get paid, Water Gremlin had an about face. It notified workers late Tuesday they would be paid during the shutdown.
Click here to read more about WCCO’s investigations into Water Gremlin.