EPA Update on Town of Louisa Well Contamination

By. John Haksch, Louisa Field Officer

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently provided updates that include some of the sampling data that The Free Enterprise Forum requested for the tetrachloroethylene contamination in and around the Town of Louisa‘s Acme well. The report included the associated chemical trichloroethylene and its breakdown products.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR):

Tetrachloroethylene is a manufactured chemical used for dry cleaning and metal degreasing. Exposure to very high concentrations of tetrachloroethylene can cause dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness, and death. Tetrachloroethylene has been found in at least 771 of the 1,430 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a nonflammable, colorless liquid with a somewhat sweet odor and a sweet, burning taste. It is used mainly as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts, but it is also an ingredient in adhesives, paint removers, typewriter correction fluids, and spot removers. Trichloroethylene is not thought to occur naturally in the environment. However, it has been found in underground water sources and many surface waters as a result of the manufacture, use, and disposal of the chemical.

The original data from the July, 2010 tests are as yet unavailable. In October of 2010, the Town of Louisa resampled the water in the Acme Well. The measured amount of tetrachloroethylene was 6,610 mcg/L (micrograms per Liter.) In a third round of tests in November of 2010, EPA samples showed a level for tetrachloroethylene of 9,200 mcg/L. The EPA’s permissible level for tetrachloroethylene is 5 mcg/L.

The results of tests conducted during the week of January 17, 2011, at four nearby monitoring wells indicate that both tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene are present in amounts far in excess of the mandated maximum allowable levels, as presented in the table below. Tests at monitoring wells 1 and 4 detected no measurable amounts of the listed chemicals.

Allowable Contaminant Levels

  Allowable Levels Well 2 Well 3
Tetrachloroethylene 5 Mcg/L 370 mcg/L (7400%) 390 mcg/L (7800%)
Trichloroethylene 5 mcg/L 2.6 mcg/L (52%) 45 mcg/L (900%)
1,1-Dichloroethane not available none detected .54 mcg/L (n/a)
Trans-1,2-dichloroethene 100 mcg/L none detected .66 mcg/L (.66%)
Cis-1,2-Dichloroethene 70 mcg/L none detected 14 mcg/L (20%)

Two of the three nearby residential wells whose owners permitted testing showed similar levels of contamination “greater than 10 times the maximum contaminant level (MCLs) of 5 microgram/liter for tetrachloroethylene,” according to the EPA report (specific levels are unavailable,) and have since been connected to the town’s public water supply. No tetrachloroethylene was detected in the third residential well.

The EPA and its contractor, TechLaw, Inc., along with Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) returned to the site on February 17, 2011, to conduct further testing in an attempt to determine both the source and full extent of the contamination. They collected surface water samples from seven separate locations, sediment samples from four locations, two surface soil samples from debris around the site, and six subsurface samples from soil borings. These borings were screened on-site using a screening device capable of detecting volatile organic contaminants (VOCs) in parts per billion. The subsurface samples taken closest to the well itself indicated VOC contamination levels of 1.2 to 32.4 parts per million (ppm) and will direct the focus of further testing.

The EPA is working to obtain access permission from property owners further from the areas of known contamination. Several of these downgradient (in the direction of flow of the water table) properties have been identified as having drinking water wells, though none are known to be in use at this time by the EPA or Virginia Department of Health (VDH). The EPA also plans to sample water further downstream for surface water or sedimentary contamination, unused groundwater wells in the area, pipes in and around a suspected former lagoon of the Piedmont Metal Fabricators facility, and to research “the feasibility of air sampling in crawl spaces in low-lying areas.” According to the EPA report, “Piedmont Metal Fabricators is cooperating with EPA’s investigation. Piedmont Metal Fabricators does not and has not in the past ever used tetrachloroethylene in its manufacturing process.”

EPA is developing a Fact Sheet to be distributed to the residents in the area and will arrange for a contractor to perform a hydrogeologic study of the affected area. In coordination with VDH and Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), EPA will propose future air sampling of crawl spaces of several residences.  A map depicting sampling locations is also being developed and a trip report summarizing EPA’s sampling activities for the year to date will be released in mid-April.

John Haksch is the Louisa County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum.  To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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