Water Gremlin forced to temporarily shut down after high blood lead levels found in children of workers | KSTP.com

Water Gremlin forced to temporarily shut down after high blood lead levels found in children of workers

Updated: October 28, 2019 06:24 PM

Minnesota state agencies have ordered Water Gremlin to halt industrial production of lead products on Monday after children of employees at the company were found to have elevated blood lead levels, according to a Department of Health news release.

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry issued a temporary order for the White Bear Lake-based fishing sinker and battery terminal manufacturer to cease industrial operations of lead products Monday after an on-site inspection on Saturday found conditions at the plant were not adequate for preventing lead contamination.

St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health officials determined that 12 children of workers at Water Gremlin were found to have elevated blood lead levels. Blood tests found that two of the children had lead levels above 15 micrograms per deciliter, a threshold considered to be a "particularly serious health risk for children," the release said.

MDH said about 300 workers are affected by the temporary closure.

The health department had previously worked Water Gremlin to take steps to address its "take-home lead" problem, according to the release. Confirmation of the second case of blood levels above 15 micrograms per deciliter spurred St. Paul-Ramsey County health officials to call upon state agencies to intervene.

“Confirmation of a second case of childhood lead poisoning made it clear that practices at the plant were not sufficient to reduce the risk,” MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in the release. “Lead is a serious health concern, especially for children. We needed to act quickly to protect the workers and their families.”

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The MDH inspection of Water Gremlin facilities on Saturday found conditions inside the plant related to lead exposure and contamination were "cause for concern for the health of Water Gremlin workers and their families," the release stated. 

Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink's temporary order to halt lead-related operations at Water Gremlin expires after 72 hours. The DLI and MDH jointly asked the Ramsey County District Court to extend that order until conditions for workers were deemed safe enough for production to resume.

This isn't the first time Water Gremlin's White Bear Lake plant has had to shut down over regulatory concerns. Earlier this year, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency ordered the company to cease operations after the agency found the plant had been emitting higher-than-allowed levels of trichloroethylene, or TCE, into the air. Water Gremlin was ordered to pay $7 million in fines from the violation.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz released the following statement regarding the news:

“This is heartbreaking. It is unacceptable. And it is not the first time Water Gremlin has jeopardized the health of Minnesotans," Walz said in a statement. "... We will continue to do everything in our power to protect children from this serious public health threat and prevent any further wrongdoing by this company in Minnesota.”

The MDH release said the agencies are working with Ramsey County and the state Department of Employment and Economic Development to help workers during the shutdown by keeping them updated on the status of the plant and giving them resources for employment.

Below is a statement Carl Dubois, vice president of international manufacturing for Water Gremlin, issued to KSTP:

"Water Gremlin baselines existing blood lead levels for new employees and routinely monitors employee blood lead levels to ensure that we have a safe working environment. None of our employees are above OSHA action levels for blood lead.

"Any lapse in employee industrial hygiene practices is the top contributing factor to an increase in an employees' blood lead level and the inadvertent home exposure. To ensure the safety of our employees and their families, hygiene training and policies have long been in place. If necessary, the company will utilize disciplinary action for employees who do not follow those policies. Since we first engaged with Ramsey County in August 2018, Water Gremlin has enhanced these policies and implemented a continuous employee awareness campaign to reaffirm their importance. 

"We were saddened to learn today that the enhanced campaign did not result in positive changes for some of our employees' families. We are working with Ramsey County, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Department of Labor (OSHA) to immediately implement protective actions."

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Kyle Brown

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