MARTINSVILLE, Indiana -- Chemical contamination of Martinsville’s water supply doesn’t pose a health risk to residents because it’s being adequately treated by the city, according to a new report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
But residents should avoid drinking local well water that isn’t treated by the municipal system, an ATSDR representative told Martinsville’s Common Council March 4. And they should be aware of possible ill health effects caused by vapor from the original contamination site seeping into commercial and residential buildings.
“We are looking for additional information to confirm that wells have been abandoned because it is important for people to understand that if they are in the area of potential impact, they should not be using the well water,” said ATSDR environmental health scientist Motria Caudill.
Since 2013, a 38-acre site at Pike and Mulberry streets in downtown Martinsville has been a designated Superfund site because of contamination by tetrachloroethylene, often referred to as PCE. The main source of contamination is thought to be Master Wear, a former dry-cleaning business.
“The city discovered many years ago that contaminants were beginning to enter the supply, and well before they got to any levels of potential concern, they installed a chemical treatment system,” Caudill told the council. “We looked at drinking water pre- and post-treatments, and they have been able to treat it below detection limit for these chemicals of concern. So, the city has a functional system and our recommendation is to keep treating it and to keep maintaining that system.”
Martinsville resident Deborah Corcoran attended the meeting because she wanted to hear what the EPA had to say and had concerns about any environmental hazards in the area. She also wanted to know if it was safe to drink the water because she doesn’t think the municipal well water’s carbon filter system is adequate.
“When they don’t disclose on the water statement how many parts per million tetrachloroethylene is in the water supply, I have a problem with that,” she said.
Corcoran’s daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and is now in remission. However, Corcoran still has questions.
“There are things I wonder about environmentally. Why do these things happen? How can we prevent it from happening?” she said.
Caudill said ATSDR was concerned about vapor intrusion, when volatile chemicals in soil and groundwater can enter and build up inside buildings. The chemicals evaporate easily and form a vapor in the air.
“It is a possibility that residences or commercial properties located on or near the center of the plume could potentially have chemicals in the groundwater that are evaporating into the soil gas and into the indoor air,” she said.
“If the VOCs, volatile organic compounds, are evaporating from groundwater in the outdoor air, then they are dispersed, and that isn’t a situation where people are exposed to them.”
The EPA conducted a vapor intrusion investigation in Martinsville 2015 and 2016, as well as groundwater and soil tests. EPA remedial project manager Erik Hardin said the agency sent letters requesting access to about 230 homes and business, but didn’t get a good response. Door-to-door inquiries eventually led to testing in several residential and commercial buildings.
In her report, Caudill said two homes were found to have a concerning concentration PCE that the EPA confirmed was coming from the plume. Caudill confirmed the presence of PCE through testing sub-slab soil gas beneath the building, as well as the indoor air.
Caudill recommended other residents take advantage of any indoor testing EPA might offer in the future because that is the only way to know for certain if the plume is causing vapor intrusion into a home or business.
Her report also recommended the EPA continue its site investigation and that parties involved continue to work together.
Hardin said the EPA is currently assessing clean-up options and will not be offering additional testing for homes until later in the process.
“When we get to the remedial action stage, we will have an opportunity to do additional sampling,” he said. “Now that’s not a guarantee that we are going to do that because at this point, we haven’t selected an actual clean-up remedy, but I do expect that to be part of the remedy.”
Currently, Hardin is reviewing a draft feasibility study, which is an evaluation of clean-up options for the Superfund site. This study then has to go through a peer review process.
Once that document is finalized, possibly within a few months, Hardin will then generate a proposed plan that will be open for public comment. After public comment, a record of decision is produced, and remediation can begin. The whole process could take a few months to a year.
The ATSDR report is currently open for a 30-day public comment period on the report Caudill presented.
“It’s always important for us to hear from the community about the site,” Caudill said. “It’s a two-way street because residents can provide us with useful information about how you might have potentially been exposed over the years or what your concerns are. It’s important for us to have that communication with community members.”
Public comments should be sent to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Attn: Records Center, 1600 Clifton Road, N.E., MS F-09 Atlanta, Georgia 30333.