Remedy proposal hoped for by the end of 2012
New Hanover residents had a lot of unanswered questions after a DEP information session revealed the source of groundwater contamination in homes on Layfield and Hoffmansville Road is still a mystery.
Not only is the event that caused the contamination still to be determined, the two contaminants found in area wells, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) trichloroethene, or TCE, and vinyl chloride, or VC, are not usually found together. DEP officials called the findings “unique.”
Officials said TCE is a solvent mainly used to clean tanks or equipment associated with kerosene or oil products and VC is a chemical in liquid form used to make PVC piping. TCE and VC are an ingestion and inhalation hazard.
Both contaminants can affect a person’s neurological system and nervous system. Symptoms of small-scale exposure can be dizziness and tingling, and long-term extensive exposure could cause cancer.
DEP officials said they had no information on how long residents in the 300 block of Layfield Road and the 2000 block of Hoffmansville Road had the contaminants in their drinking water. Five homes were found to have well water contamination above the safe drinking standards and six with trace amounts of toxins, but still meeting safe drinking standards.
Officials found that contamination in July 2011 and immediately began supplying the five homeowners with bottled water.
Residents with contamination were told to limit showers and “open a window or use a ventilation fan” in their bathrooms if possible to cut down inhaling the contaminants.
DEP’s investigation into contamination in the area began in 2008 after a 2007 oil spill at the Good Oil property, formerly Swann Oil, in the 200 block of Layfield Road. Ethan Good purchased the property in 1991. The site was used as a bulk oil storage facility ranging from 10,000 to 2 million gallon storage tanks which housed kerosene and diesel fuel according to Susan Kennedy, a geologist with DEP.
Kennedy went on to say that in 2006, aboveground storage tanks (AST) and underground storage tanks (UST) were found on the Good Oil site property by Mr. Good. He began removing several large ASTs in 2007, but failed to notify the DEP and did not hire a certified tank remover to complete the work.
During the removal of a 16,000-gallon storage tank, a drilling contractor pierced a corner of the tank that caused a leak of an oil and water mixture. Lynda Rebarchak, community relations coordinator for DEP, said in an email that contamination at the site from 2007 did not appear to cause residential contamination.
“Off-site residential well sampling was not performed at that time, since no free product was noted in on-site monitoring of wells, and any migration of contamination would have been moving away from residential properties,” she noted.
Good was cited for that contamination by DEP.
In 2008, DEP began sampling soil and groundwater at the Good Oil site and found that there was a toxin at the site of the leak but groundwater was not affected at that time on the property.
Residential well sampling started in spring 2011, when Montgomery County Health Department (MCHD) found elevated levels of volatile organic compounds in an area residential well. This was linked to a home heating oil release at the location, and not in response to actions at the Good Oil property.
DEP has since conducted three rounds of residential well sampling.
In July 2011 the DEP began sampling three dozen residential wells and several school wells in the vicinity of the Good Oil site based on the MCHD’s report of contamination. The school wells tested are all safe and do not have toxins present. These schools are Swamp Creek Nursery School, Perkiomen Valley Academy, and Upper Frederick Elementary School.
Swamp Creek and two unnamed tributaries to the east and west were also sampled and found to be safe.
Last week the DEP finished placing 12 monitoring wells on the Good Oil property. Six are shallow wells approximately 30 feet deep, two are 300 feet deep, and four wells are 250 feet deep. To date, the DEP is not exactly sure where or when the contamination began, but will continue to do water sampling on all affected areas at least every 90 days.
A map will be posted on the New Hanover Township’s website, www.newhanover-pa.org to better outline the affected areas. In addition, sampling of soil at the Good Oil property was tested and not affected by the contamination.
The DEPs senior toxicologist Karl Markiewicz said he feels there needs to be more collection of data from sampling individual properties to tell whether there is higher risk for health problems.
During the question and answer portion of the session residents voiced their concerns regarding what will be the next step to remedy the contamination. Rebarchak stated, “There are several options and these compounds are not easily treated.”
DEP hopes “by the end of the year to have a proposal for permanent remedy.”
Another information session is being planned towards the end of 2012 followed by a public hearing to come up with a solution agreed upon by local residents.
Private property owners affected by the contamination also posed questions regarding health concerns by continued use of their water. DEP will continue to provide bottled water for cooking and drinking; however, affected residents with more detailed questions on the health risks were asked to meet privately with Karl Markiewicz from DEP after the information session to discuss their particular concerns.
The DEP is asking that all township residents with any information regarding the Good Oil and Swann Oil companies to contact Lynda Rebarchak at 484-250-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org. They wish to collect as much information as possible from previous employees or local residents familiar with the company’s practice and policies as they are still uncovering underground storage tanks that were unknown even to the current property owner, Ethan Good.