EPA proposes investigation into contaminated water wells

CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF

BERTRAM — The federal government is expected to launch an investigation and provide funding to clean up as many as nine contaminated water wells in Burnet County, officials said.

Tests identified the contaminant as a “plume of tetrachloroethylene” (PCE), typically known for its use in dry-cleaning fluid and degreasing materials in the metal industry.

In 2010, two of the nine wells that tested positive for PCE contained enough of the contaminant to make the water undrinkable by Environmental Protection Agency standards, officials said.

At the time, those wells were strictly used for livestock and land irrigation, according to the Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District.

The groundwater source affected is the San Saba-Ellenburger Aquifer in an approximate two-mile stretch along U.S. 281 south and east of Burnet in the area of county roads 340 and 340A.

In that area, the city of Bertram has two wells, one of which tested positive for trace amounts of the chemical.

“Bertram detected it in the drinking water well because they test it quite a bit,” said Charles Shell, the general manager of the Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District. “The levels have fluctuated, and at one time, even disappeared.”

As a result, the EPA has proposed adding Burnet County’s so-called Main Street Groundwater Plume site to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites to remediate “the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites,” according to an EPA news release March 24.

“That’s the goal: find where it’s coming from and basically clean it up,” Shell said.

In the meantime, Bertram residents should not worry about the safety of the drinking water, officials said.

“The bad news is we have some contamination of our underground water system. Bertram has two wells on the Felps place,” Bertram Mayor Dickie Allen said. “The good news is the contamination is less than what is required by the EPA Clean Water Act, so we can still use it. There’s no danger to the people.”

Tests identified the Felps property as having three of the nine wells with trace amounts of the chemicals. The others belong to other private landowners.

“This is isolated within an area. There are nine wells out of several thousand wells drilled into that aquifer. They tested farther south and found no contamination,” Shell said. “Now if one of the wells is yours, it’s quite a level of concern.”

Public hearings are expected in the next several months. The EPA has offered no timeline on the proposed investigation, which could take several years.

Exposure to levels of PCE could lead to problems with the nervous system, liver and kidneys and puts people at risk of cancer, according to the EPA.

connie@thepicayune.com

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