More than six years after being discovered, a contaminated groundwater plume in Willow Park and Parker County was added to the federal Superfund list Friday, a program that investigates and cleans up major complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites across the U.S.
The affected area is east of the Parker County Airport and sits at a juncture where the City of Willow Park, the City of Hudson Oaks and Parker County meet. Most residences in the area are supplied drinking water through the municipalities, though some private wells are located in the affected area, according to EPA documents.
A total of seven wells tested positive for trichloroethene (TCE) in 2010, including three wells used for drinking water with TCE concentrations exceeding the maximum contaminant level of 5 micrograms per liter for drinking water.
The contamination of the Paluxy aquifer layer is believed to stretch about a half mile along Russell Road, though the full extent and nature of the contamination has not been identified, according to information from the EPA.
The federal government will work to investigate and identify the responsible parties to address the issue. If no responsible parties are located, inclusion on the national list allows federal money to be spent to clean up the area.
“Adding these sites to the National Priorities List is an important step in ensuring public health and the environment will be protected,” EPA Acting Regional Administrator Sam Coleman said in a statement. “Cleaning up hazardous waste in our communities and returning properties to environmental and economic vitality are EPA priorities.”
The problem was first discovered in March 2006 during routine monitoring of one of Willow Park’s wells off of Circle Court when the level was found to be above the EPA’s maximum contaminant level. The well was taken offline between April and June 2006, when Willow Park installed a charcoal filter on the well to ensure safe drinking water and put it back into service with quarterly testing.
Despite a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigation that included collecting soil samples, authorities aren’t sure where the contamination originated or who is responsible.
TCE is a colorless liquid with a cholorform-like odor commonly used as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts and isn’t believed to occur naturally in the environment, according to the EPA. Prolonged exposure to TCE in excess of the maximum contaminant level is thought to lead to liver problems and an increased risk of cancer.
A property owner who had recently purchased land in the area did find two empty barrels, including one that had identification for the chemical on it, but no one knew where they came from, Willow Park Mayor Richard Neverdousky said last month.
Earlier this year, area residents with private water wells that were found to be contaminated with a high level of TCE spoke of struggling with the problem and measures put in place to protect their drinking water.
The charcoal filters have caused strong odors and staining and some residents said they still don’t drink the water.
One resident contacted by the Democrat in March whose well reportedly tested positive for TCE contamination, exceeding the cancer risk health-based bench mark but under the maximum contaminant level, said he remembered the state testing his well but was unaware of the issue.
Earlier this summer, the EPA, TCEQ and other officials held a well-attended public meeting in Willow Park and took other measures to help educate the community members in the area about the contaminated water.
According to the EPA, the first step of the investigation will be to complete an investigation and study to determine the nature and extent of contamination and to identify clean up alternatives for the site. Once the investigation is completed, the EPA will make the results public through community meetings and site updates.
A similar TCE-contaminated groundwater site located near Azle and Pelican Bay and affecting Pelican Bay public water system wells and private wells was added to the national priorities list in 2005.