Residents hear update on well contamination

March 28, 2007|by JENNIFER FITCH

QUINCY, Pa. - Carcinogenic contaminants found in Quincy-area wells actually can spread farther and faster when the problem wells are not used, 50 residents learned Tuesday at a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection meeting.

If homeowners with contaminated wells stop using them, they are not drawing on the groundwater supply. The polluted groundwater then could continue through the aquifer and reach areas currently producing favorable trichloroethylene (TCE) test results, DEP officials said.

"We've found that once it gets into the bedrock and bedrock aquifer, no one has come up with a way to get it back out again," said Arthur L. Dalla Piazza, who oversees the DEP's hazardous sites cleanup section of its environmental cleanup program.

Twenty-six homes on Shank Hess, Lofty Heights, Mentzer Gap and Tomstown roads tested positive for TCE contamination in October 2006. The chemical carries warnings for cancers, liver and kidney damage, and impaired heart function with long-term exposure.


DEP officials explained that 35 years of consuming TCE-contaminated water can create a one in 1 million chance of getting cancer beyond other, typical risks.

"The numbers are very small. It (seems) very small unless you're drinking the water," DEP Environmental Cleanup Program Manager John F. Krueger said.

Contractor URS of Harrisburg, Pa., is finalizing the locations for monitoring wells that will be drilled to determine the source of the contamination and its potential path for spreading in the future.

URS used aerial photographs from 1904, 1934 and 2004 and topographic maps to identify lineaments in the bedrock. Geologists must determine whether those lineaments are fractures and how far they extend.

The expediency of the investigation is dependent on the cooperation of the owners of properties where officials want to drill, they said.

Residents asked how the depth of their wells affects their level of contamination.

TCE particles from cleaning solvents are heavier than water, so they sink and settle low in the aquifer, Dalla Piazza said. They also move outward from the contamination's source, he said.

"If you're close to the source, your well doesn't have to be that deep" to experience contamination, Dalla Piazza said.

Representatives of the DEP assured residents that wells will continue to be tested, probably on an annual basis, as the level of contamination can change. Drinking water testing at less than five parts per billion of TCE is considered fit for consumption.

The source of TCE contamination is found "almost every time," Dalla Piazza said, and steps are taken to lessen the chemical's spread with or without the cooperation of the liable property owner.

The DEP's ultimate recommendation could be to extend public water lines to the area or create a new public water system, placing some of the financial responsibility on the state agency.

Generally, "we like to extend a public water supply into the area," Dalla Piazza said. "That way, no one is coming in contact with the contaminated groundwater."

Know more in 30 seconds

The issue: Twenty-six homes in Quincy Township have tested positive for contamination of trichloroethylene, a cancer-causing chemical once used in cleaning solvents.

What happened: The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection tested additional homes north of Mentzer Gap Road and hired a contractor to study the area's aquifer.

What's next: New wells will be drilled in the area to determine the contamination's source and future path.

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