Contaminated Water Linked To Old Dry Cleaner

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Residents living in the area of a recently discovered groundwater contamination plume near Tonto and Cherry streets in Payson have been notified by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality that tetrachloroethene (PCE) is present in the groundwater above regulatory levels.

While water provided to the area by the Town of Payson is safe and clean, residents with private wells who live within one-quarter mile of the site boundary are advised to call Project Manager Mike Nesky immediately to have their wells tested by ADEQ. People who drink water containing PCE in excess of the regulatory levels over many years could experience liver problems and may have an increased risk of cancer, according to the agency.

The Town of Payson doesn't have any wells in the immediate area, according to Public Works Director Buzz Walker. "Of course, the extent of the problem and how it connects to the underground aquifers hasn't been defined yet, but as of now, our water is absolutely safe," Walker said.

ADEQ believes the contamination was caused by the previous owner of a dry cleaning business in Bonanza Square at Colcord Road and Frontier Street. That same person who is now deceased also owned the now-defunct dry cleaning business thought to be responsible for a similar contamination plume found nine years ago in the eastern portion of the Green Valley area near Aero Drive and the Beeline Highway.

So far, PCE concentrations in three private wells at the site, located approximately 400 feet west of the Beeline Highway and immediately north of Main Street, have been found to "exceed the regulatory standard, and drinking water from these wells poses a threat to the public health," Nesky said. Until alternative water supplies are available, ADEQ will provide bottled drinking water at no cost to residents whose wells are affected, he added.

PCE is a clear, colorless, nonflammable manufactured solvent commonly used in dry cleaning and metal degreasing operations. Because levels of PCE detected in the groundwater at the site exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level of five micrograms per liter, notices were sent to all addresses near the Tonto and Cherry site.

Investigation and future clean-up work at the site, which has been placed on the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund (WQARF), will be funded and managed by that program, also known as the State Superfund Program. There are 33 state and 12 federal superfund sites in Arizona.

After investigating and determining the source and extent of contamination, ADEQ plans to install an extraction well near the source area as an early action response.

"There will be a very large presence of big drilling rigs in the area in the next couple of months," Nesky said.

The extraction well will pump the contaminated groundwater into an existing treatment system called the Expanded Groundwater Treatment System, which is located at 204 West Aero Drive.

That treatment system was installed in 1998 to clean up the PCE WQARF site discovered earlier. It pulls contaminated water from the ground, removes the contaminants, and pumps the treated water into a tank built by the town.

Water from that tank is then combined into the existing drinking water system for delivery to town residents. Currently capable of handling four wells, the system can be expanded to treat up to 800 gallons per minute from eight wells.

Nesky said he hopes the new contamination site is not as extensive as the earlier one. "Even though it may have been caused by the same individual," Nesky said, "it is from a different source."

"While the affected area might expand or contract as we investigate further," he said, "we don't think it will be as bad as the first site."

Nesky emphasized that the current owners of the dry cleaners in Bonanza Square are in full compliance with EPA regulations.

"The owner we suspect may be the culprit operated the cleaners during the early to mid-1980s," he said.

A community advisory board was established to advise ADEQ and the public of the issues and concerns related to clean-up of the first site, and that committee will be expanded to include the Tonto and Cherry site.

Residents interested in serving on the advisory board should contact Tina Wesoloskie, community involvement coordinator for ADEQ, at 1-800-234-5677, ext. 4238 or (602) 207-4238.

The monthly advisory board meetings are open to the general public. The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., Dec. 5, at the Payson Police Department conference room.

A special open house will be held Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the Aero Drive treatment facility. Tours of the facility will be offered from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a presentation by consultants on both sites from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

More information about the Tonto and Cherry site is also available at the Payson Public Library at 510 W. Main Street. Nesky can be reached at 1 (800) 234-5677, ext. 4420 or (602) 207-4215.

The WQARF Program, funded by the state, was established to monitor surface and groundwater, study health effects, and perform emergency and long-term remedial action programs.

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