EPA adds Elkhart site with chemical-tainted groundwater to agency's priority cleanup list


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ELKHART, Indiana — A 70-acre residential area in northern Indiana where the groundwater is tainted with chemicals was added Tuesday to the federal Superfund program's priority list, a move intended to speed along investigations of contamination and eventual waste cleanups.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the city of Elkhart's North Shore Drive site is one of five U.S. hazardous waste sites that were recently added to its National Priority List.

State and federal officials will investigate the contamination at each of those sites and propose a cleanup plan, although the EPA said it could be several years before those cleanups begin.

Testing of groundwater and soil samples taken at the site in Elkhart, about 15 miles east of South Bend found several volatile organic compounds, including two chemicals widely used for degreasing metals.

The agency said the site's tainted plume of groundwater encompasses 35 homes and a few businesses. The site was discovered in 1996, when a citizen complained of skin irritation caused by water drawn from a private residential well.

EPA said the water in five homes was found to contain contaminants that exceeded safe drinking-water standards.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management currently provides carbon water filters to nine homes in the Superfund site, where well water was found to have contamination that approached or exceeded drinking-water standards.

Although investigations of the site have identified potential sources of contamination, the origin of the contaminants remains unknown, according to the EPA.

EPA's assistant administrator, Mathy Stanislaus, said in a statement that cleaning up Superfund sites prevents illness, boosts local property values and spur economic growth in those areas.

"By listing a site on the Superfund National Priorities List, we're taking an important action to protect human health and encourage economic restoration of communities," Stanislaus said.

The EPA on Tuesday also proposed adding a 294-acre plume of groundwater contamination in Kokomo, about 40 miles north of Indianapolis, to its priority cleanup list. Groundwater in that area is tainted with vinyl chloride, an industrial solvent. The groundwater plume encompasses several of Kokomo's municipal wells.

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