North St. Louis County ground water toxic; state has known for 18 years

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by John Knicely / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on August 9, 2012 at 9:42 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 10 at 9:18 AM

ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV.com) -- Elmwood residents in St. Louis County are outraged and afraid after learning of elevated levels of a dangerous chemical in their neighborhood.  It all stems from an industrial spill at a metals company in 1988. 

Missouri Metals LLC currently occupies the building, but had nothing to do with the spill.  The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been working on the case since 1994 at the latest, and explained the issue to residents for the first time on Wednesday at a public meeting.  A DNR representative at the meeting wouldn't answer any questions from reporters, but there are a lot of questions the state agency needs to answer.

The EPA was asked to assist in the investigation 3 weeks ago.  They are working to determine exactly who was responsible for the industrial spill in 1988.  The chemical that spilled is Trichloroethylene (TCE) and is most commonly used as a degreaser for metal parts.  It can lead to chronic disease and cancer.  Levels once considered safe are now considered unsafe.  That’s in part what prompted the recent testing.  News 4 asked Christ Whitley with the EPA who will be responsible.

"That's part of the process yet to be determined," said Whitley.  “But certainly the EPA and DNR are working together to establish exactly who is responsible for the contamination.  And we will hold them financially liable.”

This past spring the DNR conducted testing on 7 houses and 3 apartments near the metals building off Meeks Boulevard.  All 10 homes showed positive tests for TCE and 3 homes showed elevated levels.  Those 3 homes are part of the St. Louis Housing Authority.

DNR and EPA spokesmen say the levels don’t indicate an immediate threat to residents.  But it’s unclear how long those residents have been exposed.  TCE gets into the groundwater and then can evaporate into the air.  It is most dangerous in a contained environment like a house.

Another round of tests will be done on homes in the area in the next few weeks.  The agencies will get those results and then decide how to expand the testing.  In the meantime people who live in that area won’t know if their homes have traces of TCE unless they get a private testing.  Many residents expressed frustration on Thursday night.

Valerie West bought her home in 2000 in the Elmwood neighborhood and didn’t hear anything about the potential for TCE.  She has a 25 year old son who has been healthy his whole life and just recently was diagnosed with a rare heart condition.  Now she wonders if that heart condition is related to TCE.

A representative from St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley’s office said they are the ones who organized the informational meeting.  And they plan to organize more meetings in the future as tests continue to come back.

The DNR attempted several methods to eliminate the TCE in the ground since 1994, but none of them worked.  So the TCE contamination still exists near Missouri Metals LLC and the DNR and EPA are working on a solution to eliminate it.

This story will continue to unfold and you can count on News 4 to stay on top of it.

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