MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On Thursday, the Minnesota Senate approved a bill to ban the toxic chemical TCE this legislative session.
TCE became a household name after the manufacturing plant, Water Gremlin, released elevated and unsafe levels of the cancer-causing chemical into the air in White Bear Township for more than 15 years.
A recent pollution report revealed other companies are also emitting concerning levels of TCE. As WCCO found in early March, it’s a problem several neighborhoods have been addressing for years.
Neighbors who live near Water Gremlin in White Bear Township have been vocal since learning the manufacturing plant put their families at risk. They demanded more be done to protect the community from companies permitted to release chemicals like TCE in Minnesota.
People in communities impacted by the cancer causing chemical say they’ve been educating others for years.
“I did lots and lots of research about TCE to figure out what it was and where it came from you know cause it was in my community,” Jenny Warden said.
Warden in Fridley is part of a Facebook group, concerned over pollution, numerous superfund sites, that’s where hazardous waste was dumped or mismanaged, including TCE. The group maps people impacted by cancer and other disease and those who have died. And in 2012, their suspected cancer cluster, got the attention of environmental advocate Erin Brockovich.
The SE Como neighborhood in Minneapolis forged Good Neighbor Agreements with companies to reduce TCE starting in the early 2000’s.
“And the idea behind it is you can help them help themselves in a positive way while getting rid of or dealing with the pollution,” Wendy Menken said.
But she admits it’s not the answer.
“It doesn’t help if the next business over or next neighborhood or community over isn’t also willing to do the same,” Menken said.
Companies are still using TCE. A medical device company in the area is working with pollution officials to reduce and eventually replace the chemical.
It’s one of 86 companies Minnesota Pollution Control Agency identified as using or generating TCE.
A few at levels within the permit but higher than health benchmarks. The agency is working with companies on alternatives.
It’s being addressed in the legislature to make Minnesota the first state to ban TCE.
“The goal really is to replace TCE with a less toxic chemical,” Rep. Ami Wazlawik, DFL White Bear Township, said.
“We need to get moving we need to do something,” Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL Roseville, said.
It’s what Barb Waller who grew up in St. Louis Park has waited to hear.
“You spend 18 years of your life growing up in a community and then everybody starts dying,” Waller said.
She too has created a Facebook page so the community can connect and pinpoint where they lived, addressing the cancer they have. It’s unscientific, but it’s enough for Waller to push for a ban.
“They need to get on the ball. Enough is enough. We’re sick and tired of living in a contaminated community,” Waller said.
They’re frustrated it took another community to feel the impact of TCE to get the attention of the state.
But they’re encouraged and say our neighborhoods depend on it.
“You can’t change what happened a long time ago but you can kind of draw a line in the sand, start over today. We’re going to look for better alternatives, we’re going to be better and we’re going to do better than we did before,” Warden said.
The bill that passed in the Senate would eliminate TCE in Minnesota by June 2022.
WCCO is told there is support in the House. Representatives are expected to vote on the bill next week.
The Minnesota Dept. of Health has said it can’t definitively say if TCE exposure has caused health impacts here.