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Paden City Water Supply Found To Contain Excess Levels of Dry Cleaning Chemical Tetrachloroethylene

PADEN CITY — Residents of Paden City are drinking water contaminated by the presence of a chemical associated with dry cleaning facilities, city officials announced last week.

Although officials maintained the contamination is not at dangerous levels, the chemical does present long-term health risks and state and federal agencies have stepped in to help mitigate the situation.

“We’re trying to get ahead of it. Trying to be proactive,” Paden City Mayor Clyde Hochstrasser said. “We’re looking at what our best options are to keep it under control. We don’t want to just sit on it, we want to get busy working on a solution to it.”

On March 4, Hochstrasser announced at a city council meeting that the chemical tetrachloroethylene, also called perchloroethylene or PCE, was present in the city’s water wells and drinking water supply.

Levels of the chemical were at 5.5 parts per billion in 2018, which is in excess of the 5.0 maximum contaminant limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Paden City received a “notice of violation” from the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health due to the contamination.

The cause of the contamination is likely from use of the chemical by the dry cleaning company Band Box Cleaners, which operated in Paden City for decades and closed about 16 to 18 years ago, Hochstrasser said. The chemical may have seeped into the water table through the ground and sewer system, he said.

According to the EPA, some people who drink water containing PCE at excess contaminant levels for “many years” could have problems with their liver and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.

However, the contamination appears to be recent, as Hochstrasser said the city realized levels of the chemical were high about six months ago. Paden City previously tested for the chemical every three years, but will now monitor PCE levels more closely and more frequently, he said.

“We would like for you to know first and foremost that steps are being taken to protect you from any health risks,” the letter to residents reads. “While the contamination is not at dangerous levels, we are working diligently to correct this issue. At times you will see local, state and federal agencies in town.”

The city shut down its most contaminated well and has increased use of air strippers to remove more of the PCE in its other wells, Hochstrasser said. Air stripping is a process that involves moving air through contaminated water to remove chemicals, according to the EPA.

“Our best option right now is trying to get more volume coming into wells to the strippers to try to clean it,” he said.

In its efforts to reduce the contamination, Paden City is working with the EPA, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health and the West Virginia Rural Water Association. The city is also seeking funding for other solutions to lower the PCE level, such as placing extraction wells near existing wells to divert chemicals away from them, updating the air strippers to make them more efficient and adding a sprinkler system inside the tanks that would help dissipate contaminants.

Notably, Paden City also has a $5 million water project slated to begin in about a year that would add a new water tank and sprinkler system and reduce contamination, Hochstrasser said.

A request for comment from the state Department of Environmental Protection was not immediately returned Tuesday.


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