Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Sunday, March 02, 2014

More Information Emerges about TCE Contamination

Last week I had an interesting and disturbing meeting with Dr. Lorne Everett and the legal team pursuing a class action lawsuit against General Mills related to the trichloroethylene (or TCE) problem in Southeast Como.  Ricardo McCurley, Southeast Como Improvement Association staff person, was also present.  The meeting raised two major concerns for me: that the MPCA’s handling of the TCE soil contamination has been less aggressive and protective than it should have been, and that the current mitigation is seriously inadequate.  There's more information on these concerns below the fold.

The legal team presented me with an extensive paper trail of how this situation has been handled since the 1980s.  It showed what appeared to them to be a pattern of the MPCA working too closely with GM and, I think, not requiring them to do enough to clean up this pollution to an acceptable level. Among other things, they had documents that appeared to indicate that GM’s own consultant recommended removal of all the contaminated soil in the 80s but the MPCA did not require this.

Dr. Everett, a national (even international) expert dealing with toxic vapors who operates an environmental consulting firm and has recently written a book on vapor intrusion, presented information that raised very serious concerns that the current testing and mitigation that is being done is very seriously inadequate. He presented data that showed test results can vary enormously from day to day and that one or two samples show very little. He also beleives that tests must be done after the mitigation system is put in to determine if it is working.

Dr. Everett reported that he had visited 12 of the homes in the area and shared photos of several. He was very skeptical that the radon-type mitigation being done currently will actually work and pointed out several credible concerns about it, including that the poor quality of basement walls and floors as well as the fact that the high water levels much of the year would make them  ineffective.

The good news was that there are clean-up strategies that the experts agree would be effective.  It would, however, be much more expensive than the current approach and would include:  
  • Removal of all the contaminated soil from the site (that was clearly called for in the 1980s).
  • Much more, preferably continuous, monitoring of the air in the homes (not just under the slab) before and after mitigation.
  • Much more mitigation to make the old and cracked basement floors and walls effective barriers.
  • Mitigation plans and systems for all the homes in the area, not those that only test high enough.
  • A subsequent thorough cleanup strategy to actually remove the TCE from the ground water and soil under the homes.  There are several proven techniques that might be applicable here including those that use heat, chemicals and or microorganisms. 
I also believe that we need to start providing temporary alternative housing for those who are pregnant, are young children or who are women of childbearing age until cleanup and proven-effective mitigation is completed, especially for those living in a basement.
I will say that I left the meeting feeling better informed but with very grave concerns about the people who live in this area and how they may have been suffering unnecessarily for years from a toxic environment.  Even those who have had the mitigation may still be at risk.

I admit that I was hearing from one side or perspective, and it would be good to hear from more perspectives.  But I have heard enough to believe that we need to do more and the sooner the better. I think it would be great if General Mills would offer to start doing some or all of these additional measures or that the MPCA would start requiring more to be done before the judicial system forces them to do so.

I have also shared much of this information with the other elected officials from the area.

If you want to learn more about what the MPCA is currently doing about this Superfund Site look here.  The class action suit has also been in the news.


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