Lead battery terminals maker Water Gremlin has been forced to close its factory in White Bear Township, Minnesota, after children of its employees were found to have elevated blood lead levels on 26 October.
The company’s facility remained closed until midday Friday (1 November), with the company due to partly reopen the plant if a clean-up plan is approved by a Ramsey County District Court judge.
Ramsey County District Judge Leonardo Castro granted a one-day extension— on the bequest of the state— to an emergency 72-hour shutdown on 31 October as he tried to balance the safety of workers’ children and the business needs of Water Gremlin.
The judge also said he wants third-party supervision of the remediation at the company, which also makes lead fishing sinkers, reported local media.
The closure followed a Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) investigation at Water Gremlin’s facility.
St. Paul – Ramsey County Public Health investigators determined at least 12 children of workers at the company had elevated blood lead levels, including two children with blood lead levels above the level of 15 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). Blood lead levels above this threshold are considered by health officials to constitute a serious health risk for children.
DLI released a statement saying they believed the contamination was linked to lead dust brought home by workers following its on-site investigation that found conditions and practices at the plant presented ‘substantial risk of physical harm’.
DLI issued a temporary order for Water Gremlin to halt operations related to the industrial production of lead products at its White Bear Township plant on 28 October.
DLI and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) asked a Ramsey County District Court judge to issue an injunction extending this order until the court is satisfied necessary steps have been taken and maintained to prevent lead poisoning,
Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) commissioner Jan Malcolm said: “Confirmation of a second case of childhood lead poisoning made it clear that practices at the plant were not sufficient to reduce the risk.
“Lead is a serious health concern, especially for children. We needed to act quickly to protect the workers and their families.”
MDH and St. Paul – Ramsey County Public Health are working with the employees and their families to ensure all at-risk workers and family members are tested and that contaminated houses and vehicles are cleaned.
In addition, the agencies are working with Ramsey County and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to help workers during the disruption in facility operations.
Those efforts include providing employees with information about what is happening with the plant, where to get help with employment as needed and where to get more information about lead and health impacts.