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
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:
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
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.
- 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 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