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Environmental Agencies Have Roadmap For East Bench Chemical Plume

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This U.S. Environmental Protection Agency map puts the plume south of the Mt. Olivet Cemetery, but environmental officials are still trying to characterize the plume's footprint.

A chemical known as PCE has leaked from thousands of dry-cleaning operations around the country. One of them was at the VA Medical Center in Salt Lake City, and Utah’s Superfund officials have been working on a cleanup strategy with the hospital, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and people who live in the area.

“We currently don’t have any evidence that people are being exposed,” says Tom Daniels, who leads this  Superfund project.

The environmental agencies continue their Superfund cleanup on the East Bench, and they’ve unveiled a long-term plan for dealing with the contamination.

Daniels says it’s been challenging to locate the plume’s path is because it’s 150 feet underground. The problem, he says, is complicated.   

“The contamination was discharged in the 80’s,” he explains. “It took a long time for it to get to the aquifer, and it’s gonna take a long time to figure out how extensive the contamination has spread.”

Homes around 900 South and 1200 East have been tested to see if PCE vapor is seeping inside. But more study is needed to find the chemical’s subterranean foot print.

The EPA has just published what’s called a “federal facilities agreement” that outlines the plans.

Daniels says: “It puts together kind of a road map of how we’re going to address the problem.”

That plan is up for public comment through December.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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