States handling of SA chemical investigation prompts legislation

EAST HARRIET — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is investigating elevated levels of potentially harmful chemicals found at the closed SuperAmerica (SA) at 40th Street and Lyndale Avenue.

But neighbors of the gas station only know about the investigation because of letters from Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60), who has grown tired of being the MPCA’s messenger. Because of his “maddening” experience dealing with the MPCA, Dibble recently introduced legislation that would require the agency to improve the way it communicates with stakeholders about sites with underground tanks.

“It’s been like pulling teeth getting even the most modest amount of information from them,” Dibble said.

High levels of chloroform and carbon tetrachloride and a lower concentration of tetrachloroethylene were found at the 40th & Lyndale SA during a petroleum cleanup investigation completed in January.

Carbon tetrachloride is used as a solvent and refrigerant, and chloroform is used as a solvent or veterinary anesthetic, according to the MPCA’s website. Tetrachloroethylene is used as a solvent in dry cleaning or for removing grease from metal. All of the chemicals can be harmful to humans, according to the site.   

The MPCA referred its initial findings to its Site Assessment Program, which started the investigation that is underway now.

Nearby residents received a survey before the first investigation began last year but nothing since.

“I think we should have received more communication from the MPCA and SA,” said site neighbor Ann Lynch. “I’m very grateful to Scott Dibble for keeping us updated.”

Lynch said she’s concerned about pollution levels at the site and how they might affect the community.

“This is a residential neighborhood,” she said. “I want it to be safe for us and our children.”

Matt Perry, president of the East Harriet Neighborhood Association and chairman of the 40th & Lyndale Task Force — which is working on developing a vision for the intersection — said the MPCA told him he would be notified of the first investigation’s findings, but he wasn’t.   

“Without Senator Dibble’s assistance I’m quite certain I would still not be apprised of the status of the study,” Perry wrote in an e-mail.  

MPCA Project Manager David Moore, who is assigned to the SA site, said the agency is more than willing to

 “We sent a letter to Sen. Dibble saying we are committed to open and clear communication with his office and with the community as he wishes,” Moore said. “So we’re essentially open to communicating in any way that the community desires.”

That letter, from MPCA Commissioner Brad Moore, said the SA site was a high priority and that “the foremost concern is for the health and safety of nearby residents.”

The MPCA is currently looking into historical records to determine what might have caused the chemical deposits, Moore said. It is unlikely they came from the gas station, he said.

MPCA employee Michael Kanner, who is also involved in the investigation, said it’s possible the chemicals came from an adjoining site.

The investigators planned to install soil probes at the site and across the street during the week of April 7 to confirm chemical levels.

“Right now, there’s no need for concern,” Moore said. “But we do feel we need to move forward and do some additional testing.”

If chemical levels were found to be dangerous, Kanner said radon mitigation systems, which purify indoor air, would probably be installed in affected homes at the expense of the MPCA or a party responsible for the contamination.

Dibble said his legislation, which would become part of the omnibus environmental policy bill, is not finalized because an unforeseen cost to the MPCA means he has to tweak it some. But he’s hoping he’ll be the MPCA’s messenger no more.     

“It’s the solution to a problem I discovered during this process,” he said.