A worthless White Bear Lake home is a lesson for the future

What’s particularly upsetting about the current assault on the environment by people who are charged with protecting it is we’re smart enough to know better.

That wasn’t always the case, which is best illustrated by today’s Pioneer Press story on the dilemma faced by Burnell Brown , 72, of White Bear Lake, who bought a fixer-upper in the ’90s from a person who wasn’t the original builder.

The original builder threw used battery cases into the foundation.

That’s the way things used to be before we got smarter. It’s like 3M and its toxic chemicals. Just throw them in the ground. What can go wrong?

As a boy in Park Rapids, Brown saw the construction technique. Take old batteries, cut the top off, dump the acid out (where do you think that acid ended up?) and use them as bricks.

A few years ago, Brown renovated the basement, working around the battery casings. Now he has cancer.

The Pioneer Press says the city knew about the batteries when it granted construction permits. An inspector — now dead — noted in a Pioneer Press article that someday, there’d be a major pollution problem at the house. But nobody told Brown.

His house is worthless now.

The property’s 2018 market value is listed at $275,000, but the Browns claim a county assessor told them in January — after hearing about the batteries — that he’d value the place at $20,000 if they knocked the house down and $75,000 if they didn’t. Their mortgage, after refinancing for renovations, still has nearly $240,000 left.

In August, their mortgage company, Chase, issued a hardship forbearance; since then, they haven’t been paying it, insurance or county taxes. A month ago, they were notified the mortgage was sold to a collection agency.

But as for moving out, “It’s a double hickey — not only are we taking a total loss on the equity, when the property goes to a short sale, they (the mortgage company) come after the owner for the difference. It forces me into bankruptcy,” Brown said.

“We can’t afford to live here. We can’t sell the house. We can’t do anything.”

There’s a legal battle brewing and, no doubt, a debate over the role of the battery casings, but that’s not the big picture.

The big picture is when we were ignorant and stupid about environmental consequences, we condemned innocent people in the future — there are probably hundreds of homes still to be discovered as worthless — to illness and financial ruin.

They at least had an excuse. We don’t.