A contaminated groundwater plume on Salt Lake City’s east side is among the latest additions to the Superfund cleanup list.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the PCE plume at 700 South and 1600 East is among nine new sites being prioritized for cleanup nationally.
“Sites that pose serious risks to human health and the environment and warrant Superfund attention continue to be identified by EPA and our state partners,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.
He noted that the federal agency is required by law to update the Superfund National Priorities List each year and clean up toxic hot spots so they can be put back into productive use.
“Superfund cleanups improve local economies, protect people’s health and improve overall quality of life in affected communities,” he said.
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake Valley Health Department have encouraged EPA’s move, due to their discovery that traces of dry-cleaning solvent, believed to be from the nearby VA Medical Center, are moving underground and now cover around 300 acres.
The contamination was first discovered in the 1990s near the irrigation well for the Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Water monitors have turned up samples as high as 320 micrograms of PCE per liter of water. The national drinking water standard for PCE is 5 micrograms. But Salt Lake City removed a drinking-water well from service as a precaution after a test in 2004 showed PCE at 2.23.
Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) is a manmade chemical that has been widely used in dry cleaning fabrics and metal degreasing, and contamination has occurred throughout the nation, including at several Utah sites. According to the EPA, PCE is sweet-smelling, the odor released by clothes fresh from the dry cleaners.
Those exposed to very high concentrations of PCE can experience everything from dizziness and headaches, sleepiness and confusion to nausea, motor difficulties, unconsciousness and even death. It also might be a carcinogen.
There have been 1,685 sites on the Superfund priority list during the past 30 years.
The agency looks for the companies or individuals responsible for the contamination and has them pay for the cleanup whenever possible. Those sites without “responsible parties” rely on state and federal funding for cleanup.
Brent Everett, director of the Utah Division of Environmental Response and Remediation, noted that his agency wrote a letter in support of the Superfund listing.
“Now that it is final,” he said, “we can move forward.”