Senate committees approve less restrictive TCE ban

Republican-led environmental committees heard testimony and approved a bill this week that takes a less rigorous approach to banning trichloroethylene (TCE) than a bill offered last year that was voted down by Republicans on the Senate floor.

The bill prohibits the use of TCE by June 1, 2022, but only if there is a less toxic alternative that is commercially available at a comparable price. While this may be a step in the right direction, many DFLers greatly favor the stronger, more outright ban that was defeated in the Senate last year. While that approach has been introduced in the Senate, it has not been granted a hearing by the Republicans. This is the bill favored by the governor, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and many DFLers who want a stricter statewide ban.

The issue came to the forefront last year with the discovery that the White Bear Township-based company Water Gremlin had been emitting levels of TCE that violated Minnesota’s clean air permit since at least 2009. The company was required to pay a $4.5 million settlement and switch to using an alternative, less toxic chemical for use in its operations. Long-term health effects to the community are yet unknown.

TCE has long been used for degreasing and cleaning metal in factories but has been classified as a “human carcinogen” by the Environmental Protection Agency since 2011. The chemical has been linked to cancer in several industrial sites and is associated with kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and other health effects.

A recent report released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency indicates the agency assessed 86 permitted facilities that use or generate TCE. From models using 2017 data, it was shown that eight facilities were likely emitting TCE far above the state’s short-term health risk benchmark. Together, the group of eight emitted nearly 40 tons of TCE in 2017 – about 40% of the state total. Since then, four of the eight have stopped using TCE, and the others have cut back and are seeking alternatives. More TCE users continue to be discovered, and the list of TCE users now totals about 120 facilities.

The bill will be heard next in the Finance Committee. (SF 2997) (SF 3387)