Even as residents of the Como neighborhood in south Minneapolis consider joining a class-action lawsuit filed last week, General Mills says it is making progress on testing for contamination near the company's old facility.
On Friday, the company announced that more than half of the property owners in the testing area had agreed to allow investigators into their homes to see if trichloroethylene vapor is present in the soil beneath the basement floor or slab.
"We appreciate the cooperation we've received from homeowners, and we're pleased with the initial progress of the testing," Tom Forsythe, vice president, Global Communications for General Mills, said in a release, "though more remains to be done."
An estimated 200 properties may be affected by a vapor plume linked to a former research facility where the industrial solvent was used in the 1940s into the 1960s. Thousands of gallons were dumped there, and the groundwater was contaminated in two aquifers.
General Mills had been paying for water treatment to remove the pollution for more than 20 years prior to ceasing water treatment in 2010; however, soil samples taken above those underground water sources have tested positive for TCE.
In response, General Mills and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency alerted affected residents and began conducting tests to determine whether vapor ventilation systems, which are identical to radon mitigation systems, should be installed in area homes.
"Some homes have been found to have levels above the screening level set by the MPCA, and have already been offered vapor ventilation systems," Forsythe explained. "Others are below, but more homes remain to be tested."
General Mills is covering the cost of the systems as well as all future maintenance. So far, two such systems have been installed. Another 42 homeowners have been offered vapor ventilation systems, and 23 have scheduled design meetings with a licensed contractor.
However, testing has not yet been conducted at more than half of affected homes. According to General Mills:
- 108 homeowners allowed access agreements
- 85 homes have been tested
- 65 samples have been analyzed
- 27 homes measured well below screening levels
- 13 homes will be re-tested
-16 samples are currently awaiting analysis
In a release, the company said those results are shared directly with homeowners by phone and mail within 24 hours of their return from the independent lab processing the samples. That lab provides results within 24-48 hours.
"We are making progress, but there are a number of homes and buildings still to be sampled," said Forsythe. "We encourage property owners to sign the access agreement to allow a sample to be taken, and we continue to hope that homeowners will allow us to install a vapor ventilation system, if indicated. We want to make this right for any impacted homeowner."
WHO DO SOME RESULTS REQUIRE RE-TESTING?
Of the 27 homes that measured below the threshold of 20 micrograms per cubic meter, 14 tested below 2 micrograms. At those levels, neither the MPCA nor the Minnesota Department Health consider further testing necessary.
The 13 other houses that registered a level between 2 and 20 -- along with any others that follow initial testing -- will see a second round of testing. If a second sample confirms the level is still below the threshold, no vapor ventilation system would be deemed necessary.
The company has pledged to continue to provide updates as the study progresses, but residents are already taking action of their own. Last week on Thursday, a class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court. On Saturday, the lead investigator for Erin Brockovich brought a litigation team to meet with residents as well.