City residents have been advised not to drink water from wells due to the industrial compound TCE.
Residents in Lakeland Shores have been cautioned against drinking well water after health officials detected TCE levels in the area’s groundwater that exceeded state pollution limits.
The state Department of Health earlier this year revised down the amount of the industrial solvent, also known as trichloroethylene, considered safe for drinking water, a decision that was partly shaped by a recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report showing the contaminant posed a greater health risk than previously thought.
Armed with the new EPA assessments, health officials went back to retest homes with private wells in Lakeland Shores and its larger neighbor Lakeland, said Ginny Yingling, a hydrogeologist in the environmental health division of the Health Department.
Those homeowners with contaminated wells were issued well advisories urging them to connect to the city’s water system. Officials said the cost of doing so could range from $3,000 to $6,000, though residents would be eligible for government reimbursement.
“They can still keep their private wells and use them for watering their lawns, because when you expose this TCE to the air, it kind of photodegrades and breaks down so in a sense it’s a form of treatment when you use it to water your lawn or wash your car,” said Wayne Sarappo, a project manager for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The two towns were designated as a Superfund site in the 1980s after environmental officials discovered two plumes of TCE and gas that spread through an aquifer, the vestige of a time when industrial companies gave little thought to the environmental ramifications of their waste disposal practices. TCE was commonly used to degrease machines and engines.
“Past industrial practices have been wrought with lots of pollution, and now we’re trying to clean up,” Sarappo said.
In its report, published in 2011, the EPA cited research suggesting that long-term exposure to TCE might increase the risk of immune system problems and some cancers. The report also found that the compound has been linked to heart defects in newborns.
“We’re primarily concerned with infants, children, pregnant women and people with immune conditions,” said Kate Sande, a Health Department toxicologist.
Under the new state guidelines, TCE levels below 0.4 parts per billion, or micrograms, are considered safe for human consumption. The previous threshold was 5 parts per billion.
While the government has spent millions of dollars trying to clean up major contamination sites from Baytown Township to New Brighton, officials say similar efforts in Lakeland Shores have been stymied because they have been unable to determine the source of the TCE.
“It’s not for lack of interest at this site. Part of the reason that those sites got treatment is that those sites had contaminated drinking water,” Yingling said Tuesday.
“So the state investing a lot of money to clean up a site where we weren’t seeing water that was considered a health risk, that’s not where they were going to put their money at the time.”
A handful of residents have balked at hooking up to city water, said John Parotti, an engineer for Lakeland and Lakeland Shores.
“There hasn’t been too much resistance, because they realize it’s a health issue. And they’re being hooked up with Superfund money. They’re essentially being hooked up by the state of Minnesota with no cost to them,” Parotti said. “At the time when the water system was installed, their wells were testing clean so they didn’t feel like they needed to connect.
“I understand why these notices raise concern, and they should. But the plume that we are talking about is one that the city has been aware of for quite a long time, but as it migrates in a direction, different wells can be affected at different times.”