Union Springs – EPA officials detail Powerex cleanup

Posted in: Drinking Water News, Ground Water News, Health effects, Uncategorized, US Water News, Water Contamination, Water Education
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United States Environmental Protection Agency Remedial Project Manager for Region 2 Isabel Rodriques speaks during a public meeting Thursday at Union Springs High School concerning the Cayuga County Groundwater Contamination Superfund.

Article courtesy of Nathan Baker | August 3, 2012 | auburnpub.com | Shared as educational material only

In a lakeside village named for the clear mineral springs that once bubbled out of the ground within its limits, state and federal officials laid out plans Thursday night to conduct a cleanup of millions of gallons of chemically contaminated drinking water.

Officials from the federal Environmental Protection Agency hosted a public information session at Union Springs High School to gather comments and outline remediation options to remove volatile organic compounds originating from the former Powerex manufacturing facility in Auburn. According to the present EPA representatives, the source of the volatile chemicals was traced to the semiconductor producer on West Genesee Street, which decades ago incorrectly disposed of materials containing the volatile chemicals at the site.

The chemicals seeped into groundwater and traveled seven miles toward Cayuga Lake, contaminating land and wells in Auburn, the towns of Aurelius, Fleming and Springport and the village of Union Springs. From 2001 to 2006, the affected municipalities built the infrastructure to connect residents to safe water supplies, and General Electric, the company that owns Powerex is now working under a mandate to treat volatile chemicals and soil at the site.

Isabel Rodrigues, EPA Region 2 remedial project manager, said the goal now is to find the best option to safely remove the contaminant in the remaining groundwater.

“The results of the EPA’s human health risk assessment indicate that the contaminated groundwater presents an unacceptable human health exposure risk,” Rodrigues said, noting that the highest levels of chemical contaminants were found within 900 feet of the vacant facility and greatly decline in the areas nearest the lake.

She said the remediation plans aren’t final yet, but the recommended action to remove the contaminants involves injecting nutrients, microorganisms and other chemicals into the groundwater in the area nearest the Powerex plant.

The mixture, usually whey and lactates, will break down the chemicals into safer compounds. After the chemicals are removed from the site, the EPA will closely monitor the chemical levels in the farther areas to ensure they are naturally degrading.

Rodrigues said the process could take two years to start and could take 30 years or more to complete once it’s started, costing more than $20 million. Many of the questions raised at the session by residents focused on another proposed method of removal, pump and treatment, and whether any contamination seeped into the lake.

Rodrigues explained that pumping out the groundwater and treating it at a municipal treatment plant was considered as an option, but the porous rock in the area could become unstable if the water is removed and cause sinkholes.

She also said that dive teams tested underwater streams flowing into the lake, but no contamination was found. Union Springs Mayor Johan Lehtonen thanked the federal officials for making progress on the cleanup efforts.

“This is the first glimmer of light we’ve seen on this in a long tunnel,” he said. “We really appreciate it.”

Union Springs supplies residents with water drawn from a municipal well. Lehtonen said the well was outfitted in 2001 with equipment to remove the contaminants, but the monitoring and cleaning has been costly.

“Water is a big deal in the northeast, and I’m sure it’s just going to get bigger in the future,” he said.

Staff writer Nathan Baker can be reached at 282-2238 or nathan.baker@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenBaker.

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