GRU CALLS DRINKING WATER SAFE

Arsenic found in wells near Koppers


Published: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 at 11:56 p.m.
Arsenic has been found in two monitoring wells near the polluted Cabot Carbon-Koppers site, raising a red flag that contamination there could be worse than first projected.
The area's drinking water, however, is safe, according to Gainesville Regional Utilities officials.
GRU installed two monitoring wells near the site in the fall as an early detection system to make sure the pollution didn't spread. Arsenic was found in the first samples taken in November, and again in samples taken in December, said Brett Goodman, GRU senior environmental engineer for water and wastewater engineering.
Arsenic was detected in both wells at ranges between 19 and 44 parts per billion - slightly below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's current drinking water standard of 50 ppb, but well above the standard of 10 ppb that will go into effect in 2006, GRU General Manager Mike Kurtz said in a letter to the Gainesville City Commission on Tuesday.
GRU doesn't know if the arsenic is from the 170-acre Cabot-Koppers site or is naturally found in clay deposits, Kurtz said.
GRU will continue testing the monitoring wells to find the source of the arsenic and to make sure no sampling errors occurred, the letter said.
The Cabot-Koppers site included two facilities: Cabot Carbon, a pine tar and charcoal production facility that operated from the early 1900s until 1967, and Koppers Industries, a wood treatment plant and wood preservation site still in operation.
The EPA designated Cabot-Koppers as a federal Superfund site in 1983, making it eligible for financing that helps clean some of the country's most polluted spots.
Kurtz said in the letter that no other problem contaminants were found at the site, indicating the arsenic may be coming from a natural source.
But Chris Bird, director of Alachua County's Environmental Protection Department, said there's no other obvious source that would cause that much arsenic at Cabot-Koppers.
"It sounds like this could clearly be associated with the Superfund site," said Bird, who hasn't reviewed the data from the monitoring wells.
While Bird doesn't think there's an imminent danger to the city's drinking water, GRU's findings "certainly gives us cause for alarm," he said.
If it turns out the arsenic is from the Superfund site, the pollution would have spread farther from the Superfund site than originally thought, he said. The city then will need to toughen its cleanup measures at the site, Bird said.
The EPA announced in 2001 a $17 million plan to remove the contamination, which included installing a barrier wall to keep the pollution from spreading.
In addition, the Gainesville City Commission voted in October to ask the EPA to begin short-term cleanup measures at the site by June 1, and permanent cleanup plans a year later.
The monitoring wells are located 1,500 feet and 4,500 feet from the Cabot-Koppers site, and about two miles and 1.75 miles from GRU's water treatment plant, respectively. It would take between 25-50 years for water to travel from the Superfund site to the water treatment center, Goodman said.
Even if the arsenic were to seep into the city's drinking water system, GRU's water treatment facility would be able to remove the levels of arsenic found in the monitoring wells, Goodman said.
"We've never detected any arsenic in our drinking water," he said.
Arsenic also has been found at insignificant levels - 5 ppb - at the three residential wells within a quarter-mile of Cabot-Koppers, and is likely unconnected to the pollution from the Superfund site, said Paul Myers, environmental health director for the Alachua County Health Department.
Naturally occurring arsenic found in clay deposits may have seeped into the monitoring wells when they were installed, several sources interviewed for this story said.
Myers and others said it's normal to find low levels of arsenic in wells.
"Any well that you test in the county, I'd be surprised if we found zero arsenic in it," he said.
Ashley Rowland can be reached at (352) 374-5095 or rowlana@gvillesun.com.

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