Investigation ongoing into chemical water vapors in Bellaire

By SHELLEY HANSON

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

BELLAIRE, Ohio — Both the U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection agencies are conducting groundwater and air testing in Bellaire related to a chemical used at a former dry cleaner in Bellaire, according to village Administrator Scott Porter.

Porter said the environmental agencies identified some sources of groundwater and air contamination in the village. He noted, however, that the village’s drinking water, which comes from wells along the Ohio River, is safe to drink and not impacted.

According to information from the U.S. EPA, that agency is conducting a “vapor intrusion”study in downtown Bellaire. Porter said the area of concern is between 32nd and 36th streets and Noble and Guernsey streets.

“The study will determine whether vapors from a volatile organic compound … in the groundwater called tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, is entering homes and other buildings at levels that may cause health concerns,” according to the EPA.

Rob Sproul, deputy health commissioner of the Belmont County Health Department, said Tuesday the purpose of the testing is to discover how many structures have been impacted and to what degree. He recommends people in the affected area take advantage of the testing. He said much like radon, PCE is colorless and odorless.

“It’s in people’s best interest to get it checked out, and it doesn’t cost anything,” Sproul said.

“They are checking the homes to see if there are extreme levels or not. … They want to get into the homes to see how bad it is.”

Sproul noted the chemical was discovered when the village was in the process of drilling a new well for additional drinking water capacity. Trace amounts of the chemical were discovered during testing, and the Ohio EPA said the village could not use the new well.

Ohio EPA traced the chemical back to one source — a former dry cleaner on Guernsey Street. After additional testing at the building, vapors were discovered inside. Porter said the occupant at the time, the United Mine Workers of America, decided to move out, and the building now sits empty.

Sproul said investigators are not sure how the chemicals got into the groundwater. He said it could have been from spills over the years at the cleaning business, or the business may have been dumping it down drains. The cleaner has been closed for more than 20 years.

He added Bellaire’s other existing wells are fine and the village is also receiving water from the county to make up for not being able to use the contaminated well.

Porter said owners of homes and other structures can find permission forms for the EPA testing at the village water office and tax office.

“For a limited time, U.S. EPA will offer sampling of buildings in the study area as a part of the vapor intrusion investigation. Participation in the study is voluntary, and property owners and tenants (if applicable) must agree to allow sampling before sampling can begin. Once we receive your signed form, U.S. EPA representatives will contact you to schedule sampling,”according to information from the U.S. EPA.

If one’s home or business tests positive for the vapors, Sproul said the fix is similar to the ventilation system installed to get rid of radon. He believes there is also funding available to help people pay for the mitigation measure.

EPA refers to the area in question as the “Bellaire Wellfield Site.”

“The site consists of a mix of commercial, single-family, multi-family residences, churches as well as two schools and local government offices. The village is located on a section of the Ohio River Valley that has seen much industrial and commercial activity over the past two centuries,” according to the EPA. “Groundwater investigations undertaken by Ohio EPA as far back as the 1990s documented the groundwater aquifer used by Bellaire was contaminated with PCE, a (volatile organic compound) solvent used in garment dry cleaning. Ohio EPA conducted historical research to identify former and current dry cleaners in the village of Bellaire. In 2015, U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA began a groundwater assessment to determine the scope and extent of contamination and to identify probable dry cleaners that may have contributed PCE to groundwater.”

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