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Minnesota authorities order manufacturing company shutdown after finding lead poisoning in workers’ children



MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Authorities shut down production of goods containing lead at a Twin Cities-area manufacturing company Monday amid concerns about lead poisoning among plant workers’ children.

Water Gremlin hasn’t done enough to limit workers’ exposure to lead dust at its White Bear Township facility, Minnesota’s health and labor commissioners told reporters on a conference call. The company, which makes lead fishing sinkers and battery terminals, has been penalized in the past for other environmental safety violations.

At least 12 children of employees who apparently carried lead dust home on their bodies and clothing were found with elevated blood levels of lead, the commissioners said, including two with levels above 15 micrograms per deciliter, the level considered to be a serious health risk to children.

“We have not seen issues of this magnitude in Minnesota in other companies that may be in this line of business,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.

Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink used her authority to order a 72-hour shutdown just before noon Monday. Leppink and Malcolm also asked a Ramsey County judge to extend the shutdown until the company takes the necessary steps to protect workers’ children.

Lead levels above the 15-microgram threshold can cause decreases in IQ among children and affect learning and development, said Stephanie Yendell, supervisor of the health risk intervention unit at the Minnesota Department of Health. While some plant workers have elevated lead levels, Yendell added, none of them have levels high enough that would require removing them from the workplace.

Water Gremlin said in a statement that it’s working with state and county agencies to immediately implement protective actions.

“Any lapse in employee industrial hygiene practices is the top contributing factor to an increase in an employees’ blood lead level and the inadvertent home exposure,” said Carl Dubois, vice president of international manufacturing. “To ensure the safety of our employees and their families, hygiene training and policies have long been in place. If necessary, the company will utilize disciplinary action for employees who do not follow those policies.”

The company agreed in March to pay $7 million in fines and remediation for other environmental violations at the plant. They involved excessive emissions of the industrial solvent TCE, which has been linked to birth defects and certain types of cancer.

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