Friday, August 31, 2012

Illinois Residents Left Wondering About Vinyl Chloride Contamination

By: Duane Craig

Residents of Sauk Village, Ill. want some answers about vinyl chloride that has been contaminating their water since 2009, but there have been few answers coming their way, according to this article, and this one.

During June and July 2012, crowded, anger-infused public meetings resulted in one of them being shut down as people accused the local government and the state of not providing enough information on the dangers of the contamination. Distressed residents also wondered why so little had been done since the pollution was discovered three years ago.

By early August 2012, air strippers were operating at the village’s wells #1 and #2, and seven test wells were planned for installation throughout August to sample water and determine not only contamination levels but also the direction contamination is moving through the ground, according to this Illinois document.

Environmental officials don’t know the source of the contamination and have said that it may never be known. But the lack of that information hasn’t been as contentious as the lack of reliable and consistent information on when it was safe to use the water and when it was not safe. At one time residents were told that officials could not confirm whether the water was safe. Part of that issue stems from Environmental Protection Agency guidelines on vinyl chloride in water. The agency sets a limit of 2 parts per billion as the action level -- the amount of the contamination that requires action to reduce its presence. The EPA however also states that no amount of vinyl chloride is safe in drinking water. Meanwhile, Illinois has an action level of 1 ppb as a safety level to ensure contamination is caught in time to take action before it reaches the federal limit.

Other concerns arose over the nature of vinyl chloride. As a volatile organic compound it easily transfers to air, posing vapor intrusion risks in buildings where it can be inhaled by occupants. That same characteristic is what makes it easier to deal with by stripping it out into air in specially-designed water cleaning systems. Still, residents have been left wondering about their exposure to the water during the time it was not being treated. Those concerns extended to uses other than for drinking, such as using it for bathing, washing dishes and boiling foods. Businesses, especially restaurants, had received conflicting guidance that left them wondering if their premises were safe, or whether they should be serving food. Even after treatment, questions remain about safety if any of the contaminant still remains, even amounts below the state’s action level.

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