Aberdeen Water Safe, Despite Contaminants, EPA says
A chemical contaminant in groundwater outside Aberdeen that is seeping into dozens of wells poses no threat to the town's drinking water, Environmental Protection Agency officials said Thursday.
They presented their interim plan to treat the contaminated groundwater during a meeting Wednesday night. The plan calls for groundwater extraction, on-site treatment at a new plant, wellhead protection for the two contaminated town wells, and continued regular monitoring of the site, which is located off N.C. 211.
"Aberdeen's water supply is very safe," said Jon Bornholm, of the EPA. "But to protect the town, we want to put wellhead protection on those two wells."
The wellhead protection is part of a $7 million proposed plan to deal with the problem. That includes drilling more than a dozen extraction wells to draw out water and building a new facility to treat the extracted groundwater.
Money for the project would come from the federal Superfund, which has decreased dramatically over the years. Bornholm said he hopes funds for the wellhead protection portion of the project would be funded in next year's federal budget.
"But with funding coming out of Washington, I'm not exactly sure when we will actually get (complete) funding," he said.
Dozens of wells, including two town wells, have higher than normal levels of a cancer-causing industrial solvent, trichloroethylene, or TCE. In 2010, a town well registered 7.8 parts per billion, and the other registered 3.7 parts per billion.
Federal maximum standards are 5 parts per billion. State standards are more strict, allowing only 3 parts per billion.
In all, 35 of 47 wells tested positive for levels of TCE. Some were just a fraction above the maximum federal level. One, however, register 430 parts per billion - more than 85 times higher than federal standards.
Water from the town's contaminated wells is mixed with water from other town wells, which dilutes the amount of the chemical to a safer level for residents to drink and use.
Water from the individual wells is not safe to drink, Bornholm said, but is safe for use to water plants and for pets to drink from. He said, to his knowledge, no contaminated private well is being used for "potable purposes."
Lorrie Fleenor has lived on Domino Drive for three years. She and other residents on the street are served by town water. The well on her property has tested positive for elevated levels of TCE.
"I was aware of the contamination," she said. "I just wasn't aware it was that bad. This is the first time I've been told we are one of the most contaminated."
The site of the contamination is located on about a 1.2-acre site off N.C. 211 near the old Geigy plant.
Bornholm said EPA investigators have been unable to identify the cause of the contamination. They had focused their investigation on the Powder Metal Products property. Soil samples and borings done around the site were inconclusive, officials said.
"The levels are declining," Bornholm said. "What's there is from an old spill."
For 15 years, beginning in 1980, Powder Metal Products made precision machine parts. The process reportedly included a solvent dip bath.
In 2008, the site, known as the Aberdeen Contaminated Groundwater Site, was placed on the National Priorities List.
The EPA is soliciting public comment on the interim proposed plan through Sept. 29.
Comments can be submitted in writing to U.S. EPA, Region 4, 61 Forsyth St. SW, Atlanta, GA., 30303, by email to bornholm jon.epa.gov. or by fax to (404) 562-8788.
Contact Tom Embrey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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