General Mills plans for TCE cleanup, likely won't begin for at least another year

New strategies to address above-normal levels of a potentially harmful vapor in the Southeast Como neighborhood are surfacing as area residents continue to grow restless with the ever-changing problem.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is reviewing General Mills’ new plan for cleanup and finding the source of trichloroethylene, or TCE vapor contamination, and officials say an expanded area could receive more tests in the near future.

State authorities found potentially harmful levels of TCE vapor in the University of Minnesota neighborhood last fall. Since then, General Mills has paid for properties to receive tests and to have mitigation systems installed.

The systems were sufficient and provided information about the groundwater, but Hans Neve, a supervisor for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said more data about the potential contamination has been necessitated since, prompting additional tests in more sites.

The new proposal, released in June, is pending the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s approval by mid-July in order to move forward. It doesn’t include cleanup strategies until at least 2015.

“It’s basically the work plan of how we plan to clean up the groundwater contamination, which is causing the vapor intrusion,” Minnesota Pollution Control Agency spokeswoman Cori Rude-Young said.

The plan proposes to evaluate groundwater levels by adding more wells to an existing network in an attempt to gather more information on concentration levels.

Neve said since contamination is at a safe and stable level, officials can now start addressing the vapor’s cleanup.

University finance senior Mike Schmit lives in the Como neighborhood and has had his house tested for TCE vapors twice, both times revealing moderate levels of the contaminant.

Though his own house tested safe, Schmit said this problem is a real concern for others.

General Mills’ plan to clean up the area is a step in the right direction, he said.

“It shows that General Mills is fixing the problem, I guess that they caused really,” Schmit said. “I think it shows responsibility.”

But some residents and city officials still want more thorough testing and say General Mills is not moving fast enough to fix the festering problem.

Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon, who represents the Como and University area, said he has many concerns about the health aspect, especially when considering women who are pregnant or of child-bearing age being potentially exposed to unsafe levels of TCE vapors.

Though he has doubts about the effectiveness of the previously tested indoor ventilation, he said he is glad there is a new plan moving forward.

Still, Gordon said, General Mills could be working quicker to clean up the area.

Lawsuit continues

Amid the new plan and refined testing strategies, some neighborhood residents are moving forward with a lawsuit against General Mills.

Residents in homes potentially affected by the TCE contamination filed two cases this winter alleging that the potential vapors could affect their health and environment.

Prolonged TCE exposure can lead to birth defects and kidney and liver cancers.

Norman Berger, a Chicago attorney prosecuting one of the suits, said the next step is getting the claims certified as a class-action case — one that joins people with the same claim.

The lawsuit is asking for cleanup of the contamination and compensation for any property damage.

If the claims do get a class-action certification, Berger said, the affected properties will receive a notice explaining the case and that they are included unless they opt out.

The U.S. District Court of Minnesota is set to hear the case on Sept. 12.

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  • As a SouthEast Como resident affected by TCE toxic vapors from General Mills, I am dismayed at the continuing delays in communications from General Mills but more importantly the cleanup. Yes, General Mills has paid for the remediation system that has been installed in many homes including my own, but it is SouthEast Como residents who are paying the price. While the health issues from the toxin studies have not been detailed as yet, we have been subjected to a good deal of inconvenience from workers as well as anxiety about any harmful effects especially for our children. In addition, we are all concerned about the loss of value in our homes. SouthEast residences work hard to maintain livability in this neighborhood. I can't help but think if this happened in Edina or Wayzata, prompt and effective measures would have been taken long before this time. - by Nancy Black on Sat, 07/19/2014 - 1:00pm

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