SALT LAKE CITY — Groundwater contamination from an old dry-cleaning operation at the veterans hospital is under consideration for Superfund status by the Environmental Protection Agency, a designation that would accelerate cleanup.
The 700 South/1600 East PCE Plume site is located near the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center on the east side of Salt Lake City. The preliminary investigation area is bounded on the west side by 900 East, on the north at 500 South, on the east at 1600 East and on the south by Yale Avenue.
Ryan Dunham, the EPA's site assessment manager, said the full extent of the plume's size won't be known until more testing is done at the area. At this point, the agency believes it to be anywhere between 200 acres and 300 acres.
The groundwater plume was first discovered in 1990 during routine sampling of the Mount Olivet Cemetery irrigation well. It contains tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, at levels that are above federal drinking water standards. Sampling done two years ago by Salt Lake City probing water quality of natural springs also indicated levels of PCE.
“We are very concerned about the potential impacts of this groundwater plume on our community,” Mayor Ralph Becker said. “Salt Lake City is committed to working with local, state and federal agencies to ensure the health and well-being of residents that may be affected by this contamination now and in the future.”
The EPA and city officials stressed that the city's culinary water is not contaminated, and a drinking water well near the plume was removed as a precaution.
Dunham said the fear is that, if left unaddressed, the contaminated groundwater will continue to spread.
"That pool of contaminants is heavier than water, has the ability to pool up and continue to released dissolved contaminants," he said.
Under the Superfund process, the proposed designation is up for a public comment period that ends Nov. 14. If the designation is granted — which could happen as early as next spring — classification as a Superfund site would qualify the groundwater contamination for federal funding and attention to remove the hazard.
The EPA is encouraging area residents to learn more about the site. Information is available on the third floor of the Salt Lake City Main Library, 210 E. 400 South.
Those interested in commenting on the proposed designation can submit comments online at www.regulations.gov, identified by docket No. EPA-HQ-SFUND-2012-0647.