Long-fought TCE ban passes Senate

After more than a year’s effort involving numerous stakeholders and bill drafts, the Senate passed a bill to ban trichloroethylene (TCE), a volatile organic compound that is a known carcinogen and is associated with several other detrimental health effects.

The issue came to light after the discovery in 2019 that the company Water Gremlin had been using TCE to manufacture lead battery terminals and lead fishing sinkers but was violating its MPCA air emissions permit at levels high enough to threaten human health up to 1.5 miles around its facility in White Bear Lake Township. The violation had been occurring since at least 2009, and long-term health implications to the community are yet unknown.

In response, legislators in the affected area and others worked extensively with a group of concerned citizens, the “Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group (NCCG),” in addressing local issues that arose as a result of the Water Gremlin violation. Ultimately, the NCCG became a leading voice in negotiations to find a legislative TCE ban that all parties could support.

The compromise agreement that passed this week on the Senate floor includes:

  • A ban on TCE use beginning June 1, 2022 but gives small businesses more time to assess replacement chemicals or modifications to their operations. TCE use would end in Minnesota by June 1, 2023
  • A requirement that businesses replace TCE with a chemical demonstrated to be less toxic to human health and approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).Exceptions are granted for specified uses where compliance with health-based values and risk limits for TCE is demonstrated
  • $250,000 in interest-free loans to small businesses under MPCA’s Small Business Assistance Program for help in reducing TCE use.

The bill passed this week with near-unanimous approval on a vote of 61-1, and similar action is expected in the House of Representatives in the coming days. Prior to the bill’s passage, an amendment was approved to name the legislation the “White Bear Area Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group Ban TCE Act,” in recognition of the group’s leading role in bringing parties toward a compromise that all could support.

When enacted, this legislation will become the first TCE ban in the nation.

(SF 4073)