What to Know
- The Vermont DEC said tests during a recent property transfer detected contaminants — chemicals known as PCE and TCE.
- The EPA sampled vapors from the soil and in the air of nearby buildings, including an elementary school in Burlington School District.
- VT Health Dept. has said in past that PCE and TCE can cause a variety of symptoms, from headaches and dizziness to certain types of cancer.
An apparent chemical contamination in part of the Old North End of Burlington, Vermont, has sparked a response from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week.
The federal agency is looking into how far industrial solvents may have leaked into a neighborhood around Elmwood Avenue, and whether residents and schoolchildren could be at risk.
"It's nerve-wracking," said Priscilla Vezina, who lives on Elmwood Avenue in Burlington, near where the EPA was testing Thursday.
The EPA was sampling vapors from the soil and in the air of nearby buildings, including the Integrated Arts Academy, an elementary school in the Burlington School District.
"I'm happy that they care about the neighborhood," Elmwood resident Zach Wilson said, expressing appreciation for the high-level attention the apparent contamination is getting.
The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation said tests during a recent property transfer detected contaminants — chemicals known as PCE and TCE — which are commonly used in dry-cleaning, de-greasing, metal fabricating and other industrial work.
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The EPA and the Vermont DEC are now in the very early stages of trying to figure out the source, the concentrations, how far the gases have crept, and if any clean-up steps are needed.
"We asked for them to test our house because we have a newborn," said Christine Toomey, who has a 4-week-old daughter and lives near a commercial building where the solvents might have been used or spilled. "[My concerns are] not knowing if it's in our house, and if the chemicals are emitted in the air, and what it can cause—especially with the baby."
The Vermont Health Department said following a recent discovery of dry-cleaning chemicals in the ground in another community that PCE and TCE can cause a variety of symptoms. Those range from headaches and dizziness to certain types of cancer, depending on how much of the chemicals people are exposed to, and for how long.
"We want people to know what's happening, but we don't want to cause alarm," said Kim Caldwell of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.
"There is potential that it could be a problem," added Alex Sherrin of the EPA. "We're here now, we're here early, and we’re working quickly to resolve this."
Sherrin and Caldwell said it's too soon to know what, if any, remediation steps will need to be taken. Lab testing and other analysis will be going on for a few more weeks.
The Burlington School District addressed the testing at the Integrated Arts Academy in a written statement this week.
That statement read, in part:
"At this time, we view this testing to be a proactive measure. We have been told that we can expect to receive the results before school starts and our team is prepared for any scenario the EPA may present. We want to reiterate that there is no cause for alarm, Integrated Arts Academy was not the source of this contaminant, and that we have been cooperating to make sure this testing is done in a timely manner. We will update our community as more information becomes available."