Salt Lake City neighborhood dealing with contaminated water

Published: Monday, May 7 2012 6:19 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — New studies by the state of Utah and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have confirmed the presence of Perchloroethylene, or PCE, in the groundwater near East High School.

Residents in the Yalecrest neighborhood in Salt Lake City first raised concerns about water contamination after a Chevron oil spill two years ago, when 33,000 gallons of oil traveled from Red Butte Creek to the lake at Liberty Park. But water contamination apparently had nothing to do with the oil spill.

The exact source of the PCE has not been identified. But the likeliest source is an old dry cleaning facility at the VA hospital that was closed down in the 1980s, said Jeff Niermeyer of Salt Lake City Public Utilities.

When breathed in or consumed, the chemical can cause damage to the nervous system, liver and kidneys, according to the EPA website.

Ryan Hoglund said he has spent $20,000 excavating his yard in an attempt to drain spring water away at a rate of about 10 gallons every minute. He was not happy to learn almost two years ago that the water may have PCE in it, which he fears is evaporating into his home.

"I worry about the young ones in the house and, obviously, the wife and myself, my own health," Hoglund said.

The studies suggest that known groundwater contamination near the Veterans Medical Center has spread in recent years.

"Right now, the indications of these preliminary studies are that it's all the same plume and probably originated from that same source,"  Niermeyer said.

The water is not used for drinking, but residents worry about pets that might drink the water, and about fruits and vegetables they grow in their own yards.

"The garden I grow sits on top of contaminated soils," said resident Demian Hanks. "Soil that's soaked with water that's contaminated. And that's the worry that we have."

Residents have also expressed frustration that not enough is being done by government agencies to address the issue.

"I guess my larger concern is that folks say that they're going to take care of it. But that we never hear anything," Hoglund said.

Federal procedures spell out a process that could take years to determine if there's any serious risk, and to decide what, if anything, needs to be done about it.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com, hollenhorst@desnews.com

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