A grain handling facility in Eastern Washington has been leaking chemicals into the only source of drinking water for a local school district. The Environmental Protection Agency now wants to add it to the Superfund list of hazardous waste cleanup projects.
For several years, water testing showed increased levels of two pesticides at the Freeman School District in Rockford, 20 miles southwest of Spokane. The chemical had contaminated the only drinking well for the school, which has 900 kindergarten through 12th-grade students and teachers.
The Environmental Protection Agency has determined the chemicals, carbon tetrachloride and chloroform, were coming from a nearby grain facility, which was owned by Rockford Grain Growers from 1955-1993. Union Pacific Railroad currently owns the property.
Ken Marcy works for the EPA’s Superfund program. He says carbon tetrachloride was used to kill bugs in grain silos before it was banned in 1986.
“It can get into groundwater, and it can get into soil — which it has at this particular site — and once it does that, it hangs around for a long time,” Marcy said.
Marcy says the concentrations of the chemicals are up to 10 times more than what’s allowed in drinking water. Too much exposure can cause kidney and liver damage. Testing showed the chemicals first exceeded the drinking water standards in 2008.
Right now, the school district has installed an air-stripper water treatment system that can clean the water. One other back-up well also tested positive for the chemicals, but Marcy says no one uses the second well for drinking water. The school's treatment system is considered a short-term fix until the groundwater can be brought up to drinking water standards.
The EPA is holding a 60-day comment period to determine if the grain handling facility should be added to the list. There are about 50 sites in Washington on the EPA’s National Priorities List for Superfund sites. Sites are added to the list nationally two times per year.
The Washington Department of Ecology will be the lead agency for the cleanup when the site is added to the list.