General Mills facing lawsuit over vapors from Mpls residents

MINNEAPOLIS - Carol Krauze and Karl Ebert say they were shocked to learn that their home of 20 years in Minneapolis was sitting on top of hazardous vapors.

"My decision to live there and enjoy the neighborhood may harm my children and I have a hard time with that," an emotional Ebert told reporters.

Krauze and Ebert are the names on top of a lawsuit filed against General Mills. The Minneapolis-based company used to operate on the property not far from Ebert's home in the Como neighborhood.

The plaintiff's lawyers say in the 40s, 50s and 60s, the company put thousands of gallons of cleaning solution into the ground, back when that type of disposal was not illegal. The harmful chemical is trichloroethylene, or TCE. The attorneys say it can cause cancer and has been linked to other health concerns.

"The unfortunate truth here is this is probably the worst case I have ever seen. We're dealing with the highest levels of TCE that I have ever seen under homes," attorney Norman Berger said.

While Krauze and Ebert have qualified for a mitigation system to be installed in their home, Jackie Milbrandt who lives across the street with her two young boys did not. She's not only concerned about stronger vapors moving underneath her home, she's worried about the health effects on her boys.

"You know, we've just been avoiding our basement for the last month and wondering what are our options, what to do?" asked Milbrandt. "You just want to run away from it."

General Mills has a standing practice of not commenting on pending litigation, but they did offer KARE 11 an update on the mitigation program they started in November, under the guidance of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. They've identified 200 homes in the study area, and 108 homeowners have consented to have their basements tested. At this point, 85 homes have been tested and 42 have been deemed eligible for mitigation (meaning they have elevated levels of TCE).

The MN Pollution Control Agency workers say they spent 25 years working with contaminated groundwater in the area in conjunction with General Mills. They've only recently learned about the ground vapors.

"It's critical we get the participation of homeowners to allow the sampling and allow the mitigation when it's needed," Hans Neve of the MN Pollution Control Agency said.

But Berger wants more than that. He says his clients want mitigation and they want clean-up as soon as possible. They're also seeking money to offset plummeting home values.

"When everybody is protected, they should be out there with real scientists spending honey nut cheerio money, getting this crap out of the ground," he concluded.


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