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Sunday, June 20, 2004

Environment - Martinsville's water supply contaminated by drycleaning solvents

The lead story on the front page of the Sunday Indianapolis Star has this headline: "Toxin to cost Martinsville millions: Solvent taints aquifer in once-renowned spa town." It begins:

MARTINSVILLE, Ind. -- The vintage neon sign atop a historic downtown building is a reminder of this city's legacy: "Martinsville, City of Mineral Water."

For more than a century, people flocked to local spas and sanitariums to soak up the water's reputed healing powers.

Now, the aquifer that supplies the city's drinking water is poisoned by a toxic chemical -- the legacy of an industrial dry cleaner that closed 13 years ago. The suspected cancer-causing solvent has soaked 40 feet into the ground and moved more than a mile to the city's wells.

State and federal officials have known for years that the former Masterwear Corp. probably contaminated soil behind its plant with perchloroethylene, or PCE, a powerful solvent blamed for contaminating dry-cleaning sites throughout the United States.

But nobody tried to determine the extent of contamination -- until December 2002, when the toxin reached two of the city's three drinking-water wells. One well was so polluted that it was immediately shut down. City officials say the water is safe for now, but the long-term solution is drilling new wells.

Now, this city of 12,000 about 35 miles southwest of Indianapolis faces a mess so large it will take years -- and millions of dollars -- to clean up. City water customers may see monthly bills triple to help fund a new water system.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 20, 2004 09:40 AM
Posted to Environmental Issues