Scared residents moving out of Elmwood, after known chemical dumping

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by John Knicely / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on September 4, 2012 at 8:49 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 5 at 2:48 AM

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- After 43 years in her North St. Louis County home Blanch Henley moved out Tuesday.

“I’m not safe living in my home,” Henley said. “I’ve talked to my attorney, my doctor, and my family is pushing me to get out.”

Henley’s home is one of 3 homes that have tested positive for TCE, a degreaser chemical that can cause cancer and chronic disease.  The Environmental Protection Agency and Missouri Department of Natural Resources are now examining a second round of tests completed 10 days ago.

This is a situation that potentially dates back 5 decades, but is just now coming to light for many residents in the area. 

In 1988 EG&G, the predecessor to Perkin Elmer, purchased Missouri Metals.  The company manufactured metal components for aerospace and power generation industries.  Perkin Elmer says the new company discovered waste and environmental issues from the previous owner and notified the DNR.

A DNR representative had told residents and News 4 the degreaser contamination issue came on their radar in 1988.  Perkin Elmer maintains that it was not one single incident, but instead an issue that built over time.  Now News 4 has a document that confirms that idea and shows DNR was aware of degreaser dumping in 1981.

A memorandum dated December 11, 1981 specifically mentions knowledge that a degreaser and other chemicals had been dumped on location at Missouri Metal Shaping Company (now called Missouri Metals and now owned by Perkin Elmer).

Regardless of that date, Henley first heard about it in 1991 when tests near her home showed levels of the chemical were safe.

“It comes back, oh everything’s alright,” said Henley.  “And then in 2012 I find out, no it’s not alright.”

I brought up the discrepancy in dates to DNR spokeswoman Renee Bungart.  She told me they need the questions in an email to get the correct answers.  But she did emphasize the point that federal guidelines have changed on what are considered safe levels of TCE.

“The actual levels were below federal standards (in all previous testing),” said Bungart.  “But federal standards were lowered recently. And that’s why we went back and did additional testing.”

Now residents like Henley are learning they could have been living for years with the unsafe levels of TCE.  Exposure to low levels of TCE over long periods of time can cause cancer and chronic disease.

Residents tell News 4 they’ve seen neighbors die of cancer and other diseases.  And they acknowledge it’s tough to prove whether TCE was to blame.

“I can’t say yes or no,” said Henley.  “But (DNR and Perkin Elmer) can’t either.”

Henley is going to take turns staying with her 4 children in the St. Louis area until she has more answers.  And that could be some time.  The EPA got involved in the past couple months and is now testing more homes along with the DNR.  Those tests results are expected back this month.

And as those results come back the EPA and DNR will decide whether to expand testing.  That’s a point of frustration for homeowners who aren’t in the small radius of homes currently being tested.  One resident told News 4 she’s paying out of her pocket to have her home tested this week.

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