About Water Gremlin
1. What does Water Gremlin do at its White Bear facility?
We manufacture fishing sinkers and battery terminals at our facilities. These products are distributed across the globe.
2. How long has Water Gremlin been in White Bear?
Water Gremlin has been a proud member of the White Bear Township community since its founding in 1949.
3. How many people work at Water Gremlin and what are the various jobs on site?
We employ approximately 340 people in White Bear Township. Positions include technicians, machine operators, quality control experts, engineers and administrative staff. We are proud to have a strong employee tenure, as many of our employees have been with us for more than 20 years.
4. Who buys Water Gremlin products? What is the profile of your typical customer?
Our fishing sinkers are sold directly and fully packaged to large retailers such as Walmart, Fleet Farm, Gander Outdoors, and Scheels Sporting Goods. Our battery terminals are sold to leading battery manufacturers that incorporate them into their products.
5. Who owns Water Gremlin?
In 2005, we were acquired by Okabe Company Limited, a publicly traded company located in Japan.
6. Why are there cranes at your facility? What are they used for?
Cranes occasionally come to our facility to load and unload equipment.
Environment, health and safety
1. Am I safe living near Water Gremlin?
Water Gremlin has a comprehensive system to monitor its emissions, with independent laboratory results reported directly to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). We performed an environmental review of the exterior of our facility in June 2018 and reviewed all other aspects of our operations in November 2018. We conducted an additional review in February 2019 after we discontinued our use of Trichloroethylene (TCE).
2. What is Water Gremlin’s environmental monitoring process?
We have a comprehensive system to monitor outdoor air concentrations of trans-dichloroethylene (t-DCE) with independent laboratory results reported directly to the MPCA. We measure our usage of t-DCE in real time, so we can make immediate adjustments if needed. The company has not exceeded emission limits for t-DCE.
3. Does Water Gremlin use a pollution control system, and how can you be sure it is working?
Since discontinuing use of TCE, Water Gremlin installed a new pollution control system earlier this year that was originally designed for TCE (there are no pollution control systems designed specifically for t-DCE that recapture the solvent). We are continuing to make adjustments to the system as it has not been recapturing t-DCE solvent efficiently enough for reuse. This does not have any impact on our compliance with the MPCA’s air emission limits, which we have not exceeded. However, we have been developing an alternative option that is focused on pollution prevention that will be the best path forward for reliable compliance.
The approach that we are pursuing involves replacing one of the two types of coatings currently used in our process with a water-based wood rosin emulsion, which is an emission-free alternative to t-DCE. This will allow Water Gremlin to meet the 90 tons per year limit by directly limiting our solvent use. While not all our customers are ready to make the switch to this alternative, we hope to bring more customers on board as we fully confirm its quality and effectiveness.
4. How does Water Gremlin use lead?
The materials used to make our products come from used lead batteries. Because of its high return rate, lead is the most recycled consumer product in the country. Lead batteries have a recycling rate of 99.3%, making them ideal for a circular economy.
5. How does Water Gremlin protect its employees and the community from lead exposure?
Our lead emissions are far below the federal reporting threshold set to identify facilities that might cause concern. Our process for creating lead avoids any outdoor air emissions.
6. Why does Water Gremlin make fishing sinkers that are made from lead?
We manufacture lead fishing sinkers to meet demand in the marketplace. We also offer lead-free sinkers (made from tin) for customers that request them.
7. What is TCE and how did Water Gremlin use it?
Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a man-made chemical used most commonly as a solvent in manufacturing to degrease metal parts. A variety of home products may contain TCE, including wood finishes, glues and adhesives, paint or paint removers, spot cleaners, and metal cleaners. We previously used TCE as a solvent to help produce battery terminals that prevent batteries from leaking. We are now using an alternate solvent called t-DCE, which is not considered a hazardous air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency.
8. What should I know about t-DCE?
Water Gremlin stopped using TCE on Feb 6, 2019 and replaced it with t-DCE for use during the battery coating process to prevent leaking. We are currently using t-DCE under the brand FluoSolv and will be moving to a different brand called Novec 73DE, which is manufactured by 3M. We are pleased that t-DCE is both non-flammable and, unlike TCE, is not classified as a hazardous air pollutant (HAP) by the EPA. Recently, the MPCA has determined an air emissions limit for t-DCE that is 35 times the limit set for TCE.
9. Why didn’t Water Gremlin start using a TCE alternative sooner?
Most TCE alternatives are flammable, and TCE is not. Our search for a TCE replacement – which began in the spring of 2018 – required non-flammability, which ruled out many of the possible alternatives.
10. Are any bodies of water, groundwater or soil impacted by Water Gremlin’s operations?
All sources of drinking water including private wells in the area have been tested and determined to have no contamination.
There was a soil contamination issue from old activity that was addressed in 1995 with the MPCA and determined to be mitigated in 2004. Since that time, the standards for mitigation have changed, and recent tests on site that were previously cleaned up are now needing additional mitigation to meet new environmental standards. Many industrial sites in Minnesota and around the country are completing similar mitigation to meet these standards.
11. How does Water Gremlin dispose of the waste that is created at its facility?
We produce very little waste at our facility. For the waste we do produce, we partner with third-party experts to safely dispose hazardous materials.
12. Why has there been t-DCE found beneath Water Gremlin’s facilities? Didn’t you just start using it?
As part of our agreement with the MPCA, our facilities are being thoroughly tested for any potential contamination issues. This includes testing for vapor intrusion, which happens when chemical vapors from contaminated groundwater or soil move through the soil into basements or through the foundations of buildings.
During this testing, t-DCE was found beneath the foundation of Water Gremlin’s North Campus building. Environmental experts are confident this is limited to a small area at our facility but are doing more testing to ensure this is the case. We have notified our employees and our indoor vapor testing shows rates are well below OSHA standards. All data suggests that there is no immediate threat to human health or the environment.
The t-DCE vapors were detected beneath the floor slab in spaces where it is used in operations. T-DCE traveled through the air space beneath the floor slab through a building respiration process. Negative air pressure is maintained in rooms where coating is conducted, and slight fluctuations in air pressure can occur when doors open and close. This can cause air containing t-DCE vapors to migrate through the slab into the airspace below it.
To resolve this matter, we installed a vapor mitigation system – much like a home radon system.
13. What does it mean for our drinking water that t-DCE has been found under Water Gremlin’s building?
T-DCE was only found in vapor form in the air space under portions of Water Gremlin’s North Campus building. There is no current or historical data that supports a release of t-DCE in site soils, groundwater or surface water.
14. We heard you were violating your agreement with the MPCA by going over your daily emissions limits. Is this true?
This is not true. We have a comprehensive system to monitor outdoor air emissions, with independent laboratory results reported directly to the MPCA. To date, the company has not exceeded any emission limits for t-DCE. We measure our usage of t-DCE in real time, so we can make immediate adjustments if needed.
1. What is a Supplemental Environmental Project?
A Supplemental Environmental Project, or SEP, is a voluntary project that provides tangible environmental or public health benefits and is usually considered in settlement agreements related to a company or individual’s failure to comply with environmental laws.
2. What are the Supplemental Environmental Projects related to Water Gremlin?
We are working on two supplementary environmental projects to benefit public health and the environment:
Project one: Plant and maintain 1,500 trees in public areas in White Bear Township, White Bear Lake and Gem Lake. These trees will be planted starting in the fall of 2019 and the project will be complete by 2021.
Project two: Collaborate with the University of Minnesota on an education and outreach program for manufacturers that use TCE, with the goal of reducing use of the chemical. We are partnering with the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program through 2022 to identify the best opportunities for reductions in TCE use.
3. How can I learn more information about these projects?
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1. Why was Water Gremlin fined by the MPCA in 2019?
In July 2018 we discovered that our TCE emissions were not in compliance with our permit limits issued by the MPCA. Our internal findings, along with the results of a third-party environmental compliance audit we initiated, were reported to the MPCA. After several months of discussions with the MPCA to get back in compliance, we agreed to pay a fine related to increased TCE emissions, and we have taken the necessary steps to regain full compliance with the MPCA.
2. How much was the fine and where does that money go?
We paid a civil penalty of $4.5 million. The state legislature has since established a fund called the TCE Emission Response Account and transferred the civil penalty amount into that account. In addition, we agreed to pay $1.5 million to fund two supplemental environmental projects that benefit public health and the environment.
3. What are the potential health risks of TCE exposure?
For more information on the potential health effects of TCE exposure, visit this Minnesota Department of Health web page.
4. Have any neighbors been impacted by TCE emissions from Water Gremlin?
As of April 2019, the MPCA’s FAQ page about Water Gremlin stated that there was “no information indicating anyone has become sick as a result of TCE exposure related to Water Gremlin emissions.”
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