Last month, Phoenix shut down two more heavily used drinking-water wells in Maryvale, saying that they are suspected of sucking up more and more swill from an underground plume of TCE-contaminated groundwater. TCE, an industrial solvent, is a suspected carcinogen.
Officials point out that the water from the most recently closed wells was always safe because it was blended with other city water before it reached Maryvale homes. But they acknowledge that the TCE levels were steadily climbing and eventually might have exceeded federal standards. "The most prudent action was to shut them down," says Sue Keith, water-quality adviser for the City of Phoenix.
The wells sit in the vicinity of 47th Avenue and Earll, near two other Maryvale wells that were capped in 1982 because they were laced with unhealthy levels of TCE.
The recent closure of the wells is good news to Maryvale environmentalist Melody Baker, who for years has publicly lambasted the city for blending the water. She maintains that the blended water may have caused birth defects or cancer in fetuses and infants.
Baker and other local environmentalists suspect that the contaminated wells on the west side played a part in causing children in Maryvale to die of leukemia at twice the expected rate from 1960 to 1986. TCE has been linked to a cluster of childhood leukemia deaths in Woburn, Massachusetts.
But Tim Flood, an Arizona Department of Health Services doctor who is conducting studies of the Maryvale cancer cluster, says there is little reason to believe the water from the closed wells caused the leukemia in Maryvale. Flood says there were no more leukemia deaths in areas that got the most water from the now-capped wells than there were in neighborhoods that received no well water.
Even so, he says he's glad the wells were shut down. "It's important to take an aggressive stand in keeping pollutants at any level out of drinking water," he says.