By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The first major hurdle to ban the toxic chemical, TCE, in Minnesota passed the Senate Thursday morning.

The move to ban TCE, or trichloroethylene, began after a manufacturing plant released elevated levels of the cancer-causing chemical for more than 15 years. People living near Water Gremlin in White Bear Township demanded change. And after today, they’re closer to getting it.

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For years, people living near Water Gremlin were unknowingly exposed to extreme and unsafe levels of the toxic chemical TCE.

It resulted in one of the largest state settlements with the company paying $7 million in fines and corrective action. But the White Bear Township community wanted more. They wanted TCE banned to protect others from the chemical known to cause cancer and birth defects.

“So many people have been impacted by this toxic chemical,” Sherry Hastings of the Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group said.

RELATED: Click here for all stories related to WCCO’s investigations into Water Gremlin.

On the Senate floor, in the midst of a pandemic, a bill to ban TCE passed 66-1.

“When safer alternatives exist, we should work to find those replacements,” Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) said.

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The bill would eliminate TCE in Minnesota by June of 2022, with a few exceptions. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has worked with companies still using the chemical over the last year to reduce the use and find alternatives. That will continue, along with financial help.

It’s a result of bipartisan support to protect Minnesotans in the long-term through a negotiated agreement with legislators, state agencies and the community.

“It’s a great victory for the citizens and the community and the state. When we have a chance to get rid of dangerous chemicals we can do that,” Chamberlain said.

The Senators acknowledged the work of the grassroots Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group. Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood) suggested the bill be named after the them.

“I say bravo to that group. You are an inspiration and because of you we’re on the threshold of passing the first TCE ban in America,” Wiger said.

A momentous day for a neighborhood that has worked tirelessly to protect the rest of the state.

“We’re so happy that everyone worked together in a bipartisan way. I can’t even express to you the emotions that are, that we’re just feeling right now,” Hastings said.

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WCCO has learned the bill has support in the House. It will be voted on there and then if passed, will go to the Governor’s desk, who would ultimately sign the bill into law. It would make Minnesota the first state to ban TCE.

Jennifer Mayerle