TCE still vexing for Southeast Como: The neighborhood is pushing for more testing and cleanup in vapor-affected homes


The Southeast Como Improvement Association is not satisfied with how General Mills and local agencies have addressed the trichloroethylene, or TCE, vapor issue in the neighborhood.

Members announced SECIA’s official position that current TCE cleanup and long-term solutions aren’t sufficient for residents at a press conference Tuesday.

General Mills dumped TCE vapors on its former Hennepin Avenue property for 15 years in the mid-1900s as a byproduct of its chemical research.

SECIA President Wendy Menken said the Como neighborhood has yet to have face-to-face conversations with General Mills on the issue and foresees a need for increased communication and cooperation in the future.

“You’ve got to think more than one year down the line,” she said. “We need a long-term solution to get to the source of the problem, because another generation will be left with it otherwise.”

Last November, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency notified residents of a potential health concern of TCE in the Como neighborhood.

Since then, engineers have tested or plan to test more than 165 homes in the original study area and 107 additional properties outside the original area of vapor concern.

Testing is still in progress, but so far, 137 properties need mitigation systems, since they had vapor above MPCA safe levels.

Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon, who represents the Como and University of Minnesota area, said more testing is needed to determine the vapor’s full effect. Test levels can also change from day to day, he said, so one test may not be enough to determine if a property is at risk.

Diane Pederson, a resident of the Como neighborhood for 50 years, agrees. She lives one block north of the dump site and had to press for testing of her property. Though her property showed normal TCE levels, she said she’s not satisfied with just one test.

SECIA Neighborhood Coordinator Ricardo McCurley said he has heard concerns from residents about how General Mills has handled the situation. He said residents have had issues with how intrusive the vapor mitigation systems are.

He also believes indoor air testing should be available to all properties in the area, he said, not just the properties within the vapor study area.

SECIA authored five points that the organization expects to be addressed regarding TCE mitigation in the area: risk reduction, research, remediation, reparation and review. Menken said these points stemmed from community input and the overarching theme in all the feedback is that removing the risk doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.

“We are not going to be satisfied with simply some mitigation systems,” she said. “The problem will need to be addressed.”

Paige Varin a political science and Spanish sophomore, Como resident and Environmental Task Force Leader for the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, has been working with SECIA to publicize the issues and bring awareness to students.

“If this is something that could possibly affect the health of students, pregnant occupants, people with heart issues and is just horrible for the environment, any more research that can be done would be a positive thing,” she said.

Gordon said the next step for the Como area is to focus its requests and expectations. More mitigation, more research and more student involvement is necessary to continue spreading awareness for this issue, he said.

“We need to keep asking for more,” he said.