Thursday, March 7, 2013

Old Chemicals Spark New Groundwater Concerns

By: Nathan Lamb

A discontinued solvent has contaminated groundwater at an airplane factory in Washington state—and that has nearby residents concerned about possible health impacts, according to this story from the Auburn Reporter.

The problem stems from the Boeing-Auburn plant, which is near the Algona city line. Recently released tests show a plume of contaminated groundwater that begins at the factory and migrates off-site.

A spokesperson for the state departments of Ecology and Health said the size of the plume is still being determined and that cleanup won't begin until after that determination is made.

The contaminant is trichloroethylene (TCE), a potential carcinogen that was used to clean engine parts from the 1960s-‘80s.

Environmental officials say there is no danger to the Algona water supply, emphasizing that the plume is moving away from the city wells and there are impermeable barriers between groundwater from the city’s aquifer.

However, some residents were unhappy it took so long to unearth the contamination. The state and Boeing began testing in spring of 2011, telling the mayors of Auburn and Algona they’d have results to disseminate by March of 2012. The test results showing TCE contamination were first reported by a radio station in early 2013.

Speaking to the Auburn Reporter, Department of Ecology spokesperson Larry Altose apologized, saying the state should have gotten the information to the communities sooner.    

Testing is also underway to determine if the groundwater contamination is causing toxic vapors for the factory’s neighbors. Testing at a nearby YMCA and other buildings have come back clean so far.

Located approximately 30 miles south of Seattle, Algona is a city of roughly 3,000 people.


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