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Martinsville Residents Still At Risk From Old Contaminants

A man cuts another man's hair in a barbershop.

Barber Dan Fleener cuts Morgan County Commissioner Kenny Hale's hair at his shop in Martinsville (Rebecca Thiele/IPB News)

For more than a decade, the City of Martinsville has been treating water contaminated with the cancer-causing chemicals TCE and PCE, but a recent report shows residents could still be at risk. 

Federal agencies suspect the contamination is leftover from a former commercial dry cleaning and laundry facility.

Though the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says the city water is safe, it found contamination in some private drinking water wells and toxic vapor seeping into some homes and businesses from the soil.

Dan Fleener has worked as a barber in Martinsville for over 40 years and is in remission for a rare stomach cancer. 

“And I know four other people personally, myself and in the Martinsville area that has the same cancer,” he says.

Fleener says he's also had relatives and acquaintences in the area that have passed away from cancer. He wonders if the pollution from the dry cleaner, the nearby coal plant, or other hazardous sites could be causing these cancers and hopes they’re investigated.

Martinsville resident Suzanne Sichting has also seen several children and teens in the area get cancer. Her own daughter had a large cyst removed from her abdomen. As a result, Sichting says she's not convinced the city water is safe either.

“As far as the people that I know, we do not drink the water here in this city,” she says.

Sichting says the city needs to do a better job of letting residents know what's going on. Fleener agrees:

"I think it's something that we don't need brush under the rug," he says.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry declined to be interviewed for this story, but the report says the cancer risk to most Martinsville residents is low.

The agency recommends that residents don't drink the water from private wells, allow the Environmental Protection Agency to test their homes if asked, remove household chemicals from living spaces, and talk to their doctors if they have concerns. 

The public can comment on the report from the ATSDR by writing to ATSDRRecordsCenter@cdc.gov.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.

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