Mountain View Voice

News - February 22, 2013

Toxic fumes found in offices, homes

EPA to step up outreach on TCE danger

By Daniel DeBolt

After the Voice discovered a number of residents on Evandale Avenue had no knowledge of newly discovered toxins creeping under their street and possibly into their homes, the Environmental Protection Agency says it plans to do more outreach in the area.

The news last week that part of a large groundwater plume contaminated with TCE (trichloroethylene) had found its way down Evandale Avenue was shocking to North Whisman Road resident Jane Horton, whose home was found with unsafe levels of TCE vapors in 2003.

"My reaction was, you've got to be kidding me," Horton said. "I have attended countless meetings where we've always been assured the plume is contained" and doesn't go much further west than Whisman Road.

Recently two other homes were found with unsafe levels of indoor TCE vapors on the north side of Evandale Avenue just west of Whisman Road, their addresses withheld by the EPA. The homes sit not far from where Fairchild, Intel and other early computer component manufacturers left the pollution behind, which slowly evaporating from the ground and into the air.

The plume was first studied in 1981, but some Evandale Avenue residents still don't know much about it. In a recent canvassing of residents by the Voice in a "high priority" indoor air testing area marked by the EPA, two residents said they did not know anything about the problem, two said they wanted more information and five others said they were either well informed or didn't want to know anything more.

A flier passed out to residents of Evandale Avenue in December about the voluntary indoor air testing said little about the dangers of TCE, even though the EPA calls it "carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure" and that inhalation can cause "hepatic, renal, neurological, immunological, reproductive, and developmental effects."

"We did want to notify the residents in that neighborhood quickly," said EPA project manager Alana Lee. "We did put together this flier as soon as we became aware of these results to let (residents) know what areas were these high priority areas in order to get permission to (test indoor air for TCE). You are right, we didn't go into a lot of detail about TCE."

To its credit, Lee said the EPA had previously distributed fact sheets on TCE to residents of the area. "We plan to follow up with a more complete fact sheet" in the near future, Lee said.

The EPA has also been knocking on doors and is meeting with residents of the area in March. A time and date was not available from the Wagon Wheel Neighborhood Association by press time.

"This opens up questions about a lot more ongoing processes that maybe should be happening," Horton said. "I think we need a lot more data."

As to speculation that the TCE found its way under Evandale by way of gravel around a utility pipe, Horton said, "If in fact that's true, we better start testing any home that might be impacted in the same way."

The flier given to residents reported that as much as 130,000 parts per billion of TCE found in the groundwater under Evandale Avenue. On Tuesday, Lee clarified that the cleanup goal for groundwater is reduce TCE to 5 parts per billion.

A map of the groundwater results given to Evandale Avenue residents notes 47 parts per billion, apparently indicating the number used to mark high priority areas for indoor air testing. Lee said there was no significance to that number.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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