TUCSON, Ariz. -- Toxic solvent from an old dry cleaning plant threatens numerous University of Arizona and city wells, and the state's cleanup effort isn't moving fast enough, federal environmental officials say.
The dry cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene has turned up in concentration levels slightly above drinking water standards in a monitoring well, the Environmental Protection Agency says.
A city well is less than a mile from the Mission Uniform and Linen Service plant, and the university has about four wells one mile from it. In all, 53 wells lie within a four-mile radius of the plant, but many are upstream from the plant.
At the linen site, pollution levels have exceeded drinking water standards, sometimes hitting 40,000 parts per billion in the shallow aquifer below the plant. The federal drinking water standard is 5 parts per billion.
The city contends the wells are unlikely to be contaminated, but an EPA official said it's unclear how far the contamination has spread.
And the EPA is now considering taking over the investigation and putting cleanup of the Mission Linen site under its Superfund program, saying the state isn't moving fast enough.
In a June 14 letter to Gov. Jane Hull, EPA Regional Administrator Felicia Marcus said the state Department of Environmental Quality hasn't moved fast enough since heavy contamination was discovered there in 1989. The state hasn't made any progress since 1995 in determining how far the pollution has spread and hasn't moved to contain it, Marcus wrote.
Arizona officials have admitted that they moved too slowly to investigate and clean up the contamination.
Funding has been short, but they deny that no progress has been made. They said they are now just about to start a full-fledged investigation. They predict they can now move faster than EPA's expected two-year timetable to investigate and start a cleanup.
``EPA has not listed a (Superfund) site in Arizona for 10 years,'' said Matt Mathewson, who heads the DEQ's Tucson-area regional office. ``That's part of the reason why we think it is important to leave it under (state control).''
EPA began looking at the site about a year ago, in part, because a neighbor wrote to complain about the pace of the cleanup efforts.
Ted Warmbrand, former president of the San Antonio Neighborhood Association, said he's not surprised by the EPA letter to Mrs. Hull.
``We've been saying this is a problem and people have been shoving it off,'' Warmbrand said. ``We walk around the soil and we don't know what kind of gases are coming out of the ground. It seems that if EPA comes in and is trying to remediate, we at least know something is getting cleaned up.''
Mitch Basefsky, a Tucson Water spokesman, said the city has monitoring well north of Mission Linen but the slow moving groundwater means it would be decades before the contamination reached most of the city wells.
Still, ``the more quickly it is cleaned up, the better,'' he said.
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