DEP has found TCE sources elsewhere

April 09, 2007|by JENNIFER FITCH

QUINCY, Pa. - The well-water contamination investigation ongoing in Quincy Township mirrors one wrapping up in Boyertown, Pa., about 140 miles northeast of the rural Franklin County community, according to Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection officials.

In Quincy, 26 homes tested positive for trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination in October 2006. The chemical carries warnings for cancers, liver and kidney damage, and impaired heart function with long-term exposure.

DEP contractors are examining topographical clues and drilling monitor wells to determine the source of contamination in Quincy. If found, state officials feel the source could be extremely difficult to clean up.

A developer proposing new homes in the area discovered TCE in a water test last year.

Boyertown's contamination was discovered during a series of real estate transactions at the end of 2003, said Crystal Snook, who was the DEP's project manager there.


"We went out and did more sampling," Snook said.

Twenty-five wells on East Fifth, East Sixth and Monroe streets in Boyertown tested above five parts per billion, which is the public drinking standard for TCE, Snook said.

"To get these levels, it doesn't take a lot of TCE," she said.

The DEP, in its immediate response, installed three carbon treatment systems in homes where the TCE tests indicated inhalation dangers, Snook said. Others installed the system voluntarily, and the remaining homes received bottled water for the duration of the investigation, she said.

Within five months, a contractor began drilling a half dozen monitoring wells and found at least four with contamination. The contractor then did other hydrogeological studies to identify what the DEP refers to as the "contamination plume" or area affected by TCE, she said.

"They kind of determined that the stuff was going deeper, which was a benefit to us because the plume is then smaller," Snook said.

Soil tests, including those for gases, found TCE in a concentrated area, leading the DEP to a source. Snook is quick to point out that they found "a" source, rather than necessarily "the" source.

"To pinpoint a source is very, very difficult," Snook said, adding that she has doubts one will be found in her newest investigation in Intercourse, Pa.

The owner of the source property - a commercial building mixed with town houses - on Fourth Street was determined to be financially viable and, hence, was left to hire an environmental firm for the cleanup beginning in late 2005 or early 2006, Snook said.

"The guy bought the property and lo and behold 12 or 13 years later his property is contributing to groundwater contamination," Snook said.

The property owner has been asked to focus on cleaning up the soil around the commercial building because nearly everyone in the contamination plume has since converted to public water service.

"Since everyone is on public water in the area, we're not looking a public health cleanup action. The prompt response on our part is finished because we installed public water," Snook said.

Colebrookdale Township passed an ordinance requiring that affected wells be closed and properties be hooked up to public water.

She won't speculate when the product with TCE was dumped or what it was.

"Back when (TCE) was in use, it was a pretty common degreaser," Snook said. "We're finding it can stay in the water for 20 years."

DEP officials have said that the timeliness of their investigation is often dependent on the cooperation of property owners.

While those in Boyertown were agreeable, Snook has encountered problems while obtaining rights of way in Intercourse, the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The DEP maintains an option of gaining access to properties through the legal system.

"That's the whole umbrella of protecting public health and welfare," Snook said.

The Boyertown response included the required public comment period and hearing, which drew about 30 people. The source investigations often use the residents' theories, according to Snook.

Much like officials fear might happen this year, the Boyertown "project kind of got put on hold because our budget had no money," Snook said. Funding for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act program remains in limbo from year to year, Snook and other DEP officials have lamented.

They have warned Quincy Township residents and municipal officials that funding has yet to be secured beyond June 30, putting the source investigation and remediation efforts in jeopardy.

Know more... in 30 seconds

The issue: The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has confirmed the presence of tricholoroethylene (TCE), a carcinogen, in more than two dozen Quincy Township wells.

What happened: The DEP installed a carbon water treatment system in the home with the highest test results. It has been delivering bottled water to other homes with contaminated wells.

What's next: A DEP contractor will identify the "contamination plume," or area affected by TCE, in hopes of pinpointing a source.

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