- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) - Officials with the federal Environmental Protection Agency have begun investigating the source of a potentially toxic chemical that’s been leaking into Kokomo’s groundwater.

Tests done since 2007 have shown levels of vinyl chloride at four municipal wells, along with a monitoring well, that exceed the EPA maximum contaminant level for raw water.

The EPA placed the groundwater plume on its national Superfund list in March, making it one of the federal government’s top priorities for cleanup and rehabilitation. But officials still want to know where the chemical is coming from.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has identified 14 facilities within the city that handle solvents containing vinyl chloride that could be the source of the contamination, the Kokomo Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1dbAIJy ).

Those facilities range from large factories such as Chrysler and Delphi to small businesses like Hunt’s Salvage and Coal Yard and Wiese Collision Repair.

The EPA has begun reviewing documents, investigating sites and taking samples as it begins gathering data.

Spokeswoman Phillippa Cannon said that in its investigations, the agency asks potential polluters to conduct a study to determine the nature and extent of contamination at the site, with oversight from the EPA.

“This is EPA’s ‘enforcement-first’ approach, which ensures that taxpayer money is not spent to address a cleanup site if responsible parties can do so,” she said in an email.

If the EPA can identify the culprit, the agency will try to reach an agreement in which the responsible party would investigate the nature and extent of site contamination. That process could take about a year, Cannon said, and could include drilling and sampling groundwater monitoring wells in the plume area.

The EPA will do the study if no responsible parties are identified.

Cannon said the study is expected to begin in early 2017 and could take a year or two to complete.

Kirk Kuroiwa, the water quality supervisor at the Indiana American Water treatment plant in Kokomo, said the fact that the EPA will either pay for the cleanup or attempt to get the offender to cover the costs is one of the biggest perks of getting the water plume on the Superfund list.

“This will get cleaned up, and it won’t be at the expense of this community,” he said. “It’s alleviating a potentially huge financial burden on this community.”

The goal of the investigation is to remove the vinyl chloride from the water plume and ensure the city’s drinking water is free from industrial contaminants.

Cannon said there are several options for cleaning up the groundwater, including pumping the contaminated water out of the ground and cleaning it in an above-ground treatment system or using biological or chemical means to treat the groundwater while it’s still under ground to destroy the pollutants.

Another option is to monitor the contaminant levels over time, since vinyl chloride will eventually break down and dissipate.

But it could be years before the EPA eventually determines the best way to clean the plume.

Kuroiwa said Indiana American Water has increased lab tests to discover what kinds of chemicals are in the water and is keeping an eye on the wells the utility uses to pump up the groundwater to make sure the levels of vinyl chloride aren’t increasing.

Out of the 14 wells the utility uses to draw groundwater, tests show only three are currently pulling water containing trace amounts of vinyl chloride, he said.

“We feel like at the levels we’ve detected, we can manage it and remove it and meet all the drinking water standards,” Kuroiwa said.

He said residents who rely on wells are the biggest worry and urged them to have their wells tested.

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Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com

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