What you need to know about the Pike and Mulberry Superfund Site in Martinsville

·4 min read

The Pike and Mulberry Streets PCE Plume is one of about 40 Superfund Sites listed on the National Priorities List by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the state of Indiana.

It is also one of about 1,300 around the country.

The site is centered around a plume mainly contaminated with PCE, which has polluted the city of Martinsville's municipal water source.

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While the source itself remains contaminated, the water is processed through a carbon filtration system before it reaches customers and is considered safe for consumption according to state and federal drinking water standards.

The federal government added the Pike and Mulberry site to the National Priorities List in May 2013.

What is PCE

PCE is an abbreviation commonly used to refer to tetrachloroethylene, which is often used in the dry cleaning industry on clothing items.

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According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PCE is a colorless liquid.

While its use as a dry cleaning agent is common, PCE is also often used as a metal degreasing solvent.

TCE, or trichloroethylene, has also been found at the site.

Background in Martinsville

The main source of the contamination for the Pike and Mulberry site is believed to be the former Master Wear dry cleaning facility that was located on Main Street in downtown Martinsville from 1986 until 1991.

However, other dry cleaning businesses in the downtown area may have had an impact in creating the plume.

There were multiple complaints submitted to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) against Master Wear from 1987 to 1991 that the business was illegally dumping chemicals.

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The state removed drums from the former Master Wear in August 1992 and oversaw investigations around the site for about three years from 1996 through 1999.

By November 2002, the concentration from PCE in a Martinsville drinking-water well had exceeded federal safe drinking water standards. The EPA became involved with the site at that time.

A few years later, in 2005, the city installed a granular activated carbon filtration system to treat the water before it reaches consumers.

Because of the carbon system, the contaminants are "effectively removed" from the city's drinking water according to a Health Consultation Report released by the ATSDR.

In fact, the ATSDR recommends that any resident living in Martinsville who utilize a private well for residential water should connect to the municipal water system because the private well could be contaminated.

In recent years, city officials have been working to get customers to connect to the municipal water system — including new ordinances to stop the construction of new private wells and restrict how the wells can be used.

Current concerns

While Martinsville's water meets federal standards, the main concern with Pike and Mulberry site now is vapor intrusion into businesses and homes in the city.

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The EPA has collected vapor samples in recent years to see if any structures in Martinsville contain elevated levels of contamination.

During a meeting with the Pike and Mulberry Community Action Group (CAG) on June 27, the site's remedial project manager, Erik Hardin said only a couple dozen homes and businesses of the more than 80 that were tested showed soil vapor samples that were concerning.

The EPA will offer mitigation systems for these structures, as well as for other buildings in the plume area that are deemed necessary, to lower the contamination threat.

EPA and CAG members will soon start working to get the word out to potentially impacted owners and tenants that they could be eligible for a mitigation system.

Record of Decision

The EPA released its record of decision (ROD) for the site in March 2021.

The federal agency selected a cleanup method known as 'in situ chemical reduction' which is expected to destroy the pollutants by injecting iron and carbon derivatives.

EPA may switch to another cleanup method known as 'in situ chemical oxidation' if “determines during the design of the remedy that it is not confident the risks posed by implementing (chemical reduction) can be sufficiently managed.”

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The oxidation method, according to the ROD is "a chemical process that can convert hazardous contaminants, such as PCE, to nonhazardous or less toxic compounds that are inert, more stable or less mobile.”

In 2021, the federal agency estimated the chemical reduction method to cost about $4.38 million and take up to 17 years to complete in Martinsville.

Contact Reporter-Times, Times-Mail and Spencer Evening World editor Lance Gideon at lgideon@reporter-times.com or 765-342-1543. Follow him on Twitter: @LanceOGideon.

This article originally appeared on The Reporter Times: Pike and Mulberry Superfund Site in Martinsville Indiana