EPA: Grand Rapids contamination threat contained

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An invite-only meeting was held Tuesday in Grand Rapids regarding the ground contamination near Hall Street and Madison Avenue SE.

In May of last year, the area was found to be contaminated with tetrachloroethylene, which was causing vapors to seep into buildings. Health officials say the chemical was introduced by a dry cleaning business that once operated in the area before closing in 1996.

Some community members were allowed to attend Tuesday’s meeting at the LINC offices near the contamination site, but it was not open to the general public and 24 Hour News 8’s reporter and photographer were not allowed inside.

A spokesperson with the Environmental Protection Agency came outside to answer questions, declaring that efforts to remediate homes impacted by the contamination were successful.

“We identified eight homes total that we installed remediation systems in. They had some indoor air contamination. In the winter resampling, we didn’t find any additional properties that needed remediation at this time so that was good news,” said Betsy Nightingale, an on-site coordinator with the EPA.

Nightingale said that the immediate threat to impacted homes was dealt with using ventilation systems that remove air from beneath the impacted properties and blow it away from the structures. They also put sealant on floors to prevent the chemical vapor from coming getting into homes.

None of the efforts to stop the vapors, however, has anything to do with cleaning up the actual contamination. The groundwater is still contaminated. Nightingale said tests are underway on processes that might rid the area of the chemical.

The groundwater contamination does not impact drinking water as all residents nearby use city plumbing for their water supply.

Paula Collier and Jessica Solis work for Seeds of Promise, a nonprofit community organization in the building most significantly impacted by the contamination. They were invited to the Tuesday meeting and hoped to get answers to lingering questions.

“No one has given us any answers — no nothing — since that testing,” Collier told 24 Hour News 8 before the meeting. “All that testing showed that we had these high levels. No one has followed through with any follow up.”

Collier said her biggest concern is about the what long-term health effects the exposure to the chemical could have. Solis’ concerns are twofold: She’s not only concerned for herself, but also for her child. She was pregnant with her son while working for Seeds of Promise.

Kent County Health Department officials said the long-term effects are largely unknown, though studies have linked tetrachloroethylene to some cancers.

The taxpayer-funded EPA has footed the bill for the effort to remediate impacted homes and businesses because the dry cleaner that caused the contamination has long been out of business.

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