By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Motorola has spent nearly $30 million to take care of its TCE problems in the Valley. Still the contamination persists.
Some aquifers may not be cleansed by pump-and-treat for 1,000 years, says a 1991 report released by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The Department of Energy funded the report, which looked at 16 sites, many of which contained TCE. The sites had been "pumped and treated" from two to 12 years. In New Brighton, Minnesota, an ammunition factory polluted the aquifer and bedrock with TCE. After two years of pump-and-treat, the TCE concentrations remained virtually the same.
In South Brunswick, New Jersey, an electronics factory was contaminated with TCA and PCE, solvents that are cousins to TCE. After six years of pump-and-treat, the aquifer remained highly contaminated.
Oak Ridge researchers concluded that pump-and-treat has two good points. It may halt the spread of contaminated plumes of groundwater. It is excellent for ridding the water of solvents once the water is pumped out of the aquifer. But the report says pump-and-treat has been disappointing in cleaning the aquifers themselves. "Groundwater pumping is ineffective for restoring aquifers to health-based levels. This reality needs to be explicitly recognized by regulators," the report concludes.
Despite the obvious implications for the Valley, the findings of the Oak Ridge report were relegated to a small sidebar in the state's largest daily, as an afterthought to a 1991 story on contaminated industrial lagoons around the state. No mention whatsoever was made that the 52nd Street aquifer might not be completely cleaned for centuries.
State and federal regulators, as well as Hussey, of Dames and Moore, all acknowledge that they are aware of the controversy over this technology.
Indeed, as long ago as 1986, Dames and Moore informed the state that the aquifer might not be cleaned.
But to date, no written communiqu‚s from any of these authorities have cited the Oak Ridge report or mentioned the national debate.
We're not out to make headlines, we're not out for glory," says Don Atkinson, the DEQ official who until very recently oversaw the Motorola 52nd Street Superfund site for the state. Why "panic" the people by telling them of the severity of the contamination or the uncertainty of the cleanup?
"The debate over what will work is still among the technical people for the most part," says Ed Fox, the DEQ director. "A lot of the science hasn't been peer-reviewed or tested."
Fox agrees that the national debate changes the nature of citizens' concerns. They no longer have to be worried about their health--pump-and-treat can cleanse solvents out of contaminated water, once it is pumped out of the ground.
But there are three immense problems that arise out of the possible failure of pump-and-treat:
ùOne of the Valley's most productive aquifers, stretching from the plant on 52nd Street all the way to Tolleson, is threatened by this immense traveling plume of contamination from the Motorola plant, and, further downstream, by other industries.
ùThe pollution may not be completely cleaned from the aquifer, despite Motorola's best efforts.
ùIf cleanup stretches on for centuries, officials do not know how to predict the cost. Or who will pay. "The law still says the responsible party pays," says Fox, who has been mulling over these dilemmas for several months. He is not yet ready to say that pump-and-treat will not completely clean the aquifer, because the scientific debate is still ongoing. "No one has an answer," he says, "but we will have to look at the long-term issue."
Perhaps the state could somehow contain the polluted water with a network of pumps. Once corralled, the water would be pumped only as it is needed. Perhaps no effort should be made to return the filthy aquifers to their natural states.
But who pays? Perhaps the state could require polluters to put money in a water-cleanup trust fund. "The question then becomes, 'How much?,' and the answer is, 'Who knows?'" Fox says.
"What is the practical psychology and impact of that approach on the public?" asks Ed Fox.
rose marie augustine is intimately acquainted with the controversy over aquifer cleanup. But seven years ago, she didn't know what an aquifer was.
Seven years ago Augustine was a south Tucson grandmother who spent much of her time wondering why so many of her relatives and neighbors seemed to be getting sick.
She found the answers on May 19, 1985, the day she picked up the Arizona Daily Star and began reading the first of a series of articles detailing illnesses in south Tucson areas where people drank water contaminated by TCE. The pollution, discovered in 1981, had been linked to Hughes Aircraft.
The Arizona Daily Star series was written by a gritty journalist named Jane Kay. Before she sat down to write, Kay spent six months delving through public records, interviewing government officials, and trekking through south Tucson, where she interviewed and took health histories of 500 residents. After reporting her research to scientists at the University of Arizona and the National Cancer Institute, Kay concluded that there were high rates of certain illnesses, including leukemia and lupus, in the areas that received the most contaminated water.