MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The manufacturing plant responsible for lead poisoning in a dozen children will restart operations on Tuesday. Water Gremlin has the weekend to clean-up and then re-train employees. And for the first time, a Water Gremlin executive answered questions from WCCO’s Jennifer Mayerle.
“We’ve been requesting an interview with you for months now,” Mayerle said to Water Gremlin’s Vice President of International Manufacturing, Carl DuBois.
Finally, DuBois stopped to respond.
“Water Gremlin is taking every effort necessary to be sure that families do not experience contamination in their home or blood lead levels in the future,” DuBois said.
The state and the manufacturing plant argued over how much clean-up Water Gremlin should have to do before restarting operations and how quickly. For the health of kids, the state wanted the facility cleaned top to bottom, to add mobile showers and locker rooms and more.
“Water Gremlin isn’t entitled to the benefit of the doubt anymore. It has demonstrated that no matter what it tries to do with its current layout, it’s not going to work,” Pete Surdo, attorney for the state, said.
The plant did get some leeway. It will clean locker rooms and the lunchroom and begin to clean workers cars to make sure they’re free of lead. Workers will be retrained on Monday. When they return on Tuesday, they’ll have to wear hairnets and protection over their shoes in an effort to stop lead from being transferred to areas that are supposed to be kept clean. The judgment offered relief for employees.
“It’s pretty hard, everybody’s kind of scared they would lose their job, but eventually for the ruling today we know for sure we’ll be able to return for our job,” worker Xiong Vue said.
The community, like the state, is skeptical Water Gremlin can do it all safely.
“It’s a little disappointing they’re not holding a firmer line on that in my opinion but I’m glad it’s getting the attention it’s getting,” neighbor Sheri Smith said.
That’s what Mayerle asked the guy on the ground at Water Gremlin.
“Why should people believe this next phase is going to work?”
“Just judge us from our actions going forward. We did do a lot of things in the past year and we’re going to continue to do everything possible to remedy those situations,” DuBois said.
“There’s a child with lead poisoning over 15, with a blood lead level since that time, since you were shut down, since the state settlement. How do people trust Water Gremlin?” Mayerle asked.
“We have to build that trust over time and all I can say is we’re very committed and very serious about doing that,” DuBois said.
WCCO will be watching. So will the state. Water Gremlin must provide daily updates.
Inspectors from the Department of Labor and Industry, and Health, can drop in at any time. The state said the steps being taken are important but not sufficient and need to be followed by more permanent solutions. Judge Leonardo Castro said he will not hesitate to stop operations if he’s not satisfied with the progress.