Water Gremlin: How lead sinkers harm people too

by Trevor Russell
Manufacture of lead fishing tackle can pose risks to employees and their families. It's time to get the lead out of fishing tackle. (Photo: Angein Zubehoer Grundblei, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.5)

FMR recently petitioned the state to address lead used by hunters and anglers in Minnesota. Our rationale: lead rounds, shot and fishing tackle (particularly lead sinkers) can pose serious risks to wildlife life that ingest them by accident.

Sadly, the state’s recent closure of a controversial lead facility shed new light on a little-discussed public health risk of lead products: Employees and their families can be exposed to lead from the manufacturing facility.

Water Gremlin and “take-home lead”

On October 28 the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry announced the closure of the troubled Water Gremlin facility in White Bear Township, which made lead fishing sinkers and battery terminals.

This company’s practices resulted in the tragically inevitable: employees and family members put at risk from so-called “take-home lead.” The state’s action comes after children of employees were found to have dangerous levels of lead in their blood. This includes at least two cases of very high exposure that could result in developmental impacts and impaired intelligence.

This is not the first public health risk created by the facility, which made news earlier in the year after paying more than $7 million in fines for emitting high levels of trichloroethylene, or TCE, into the community’s air for many years.

This is a somber reminder that lead products of any kind can pose a variety of risks to human and environmental health — one reason we strongly support state action to address prominent sources of lead.

No safe level of lead

It’s worth reminding ourselves at every turn: There is no safe level of lead exposure. Children under the age of six, pregnant women and developing fetuses can experience especially dangerous health effects from lead exposure.

While the state has excellent data on lead exposure, especially in children, cases like Water Gremlin serve as a stark example of why the time has come for further action to remove lead from consumer products.

Want to help the river and its wildlife?


FMR's Water Program is working with partners across the state to address many water pollution and public health issues — including efforts to get the lead out of fishing tackle and ammunition. Sign up as a River Guardian and we'll email you when there's a chance to act quickly online for the river. Plus you'll be invited to special events like educational happy hours.

Read more from our Water Blog.