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Polluted site in Martinsville to get federal funding to treat toxic vapors in homes

martinsville pollution

A map of the polluted plume of groundwater that makes up the Superfund site in Martinsville. The blue indicates where the highest concentrations of toxic chemicals are in the water. (Courtesy of EPA Region 5)

A Superfund site in Martinsville will receive money for cleanup from the federal infrastructure law. It’s one of 49 such sites in the country that hasn't had federal funding before.

The groundwater in the city has been polluted with the industrial chemical PCE and toxic vapors from the soil are seeping into buildings. Residents suspect the chemical could be causing rare stomach cancers and other illnesses in the area.

The money will go to address the source of the pollution as well as install treatment systems in the homes and businesses affected by the toxic vapors.

Tom Wallace is the founder of the Martinsville Indiana Superfund Site Association. He said he hopes the funding will speed up the process of getting these vapor mitigation systems installed.

“You could find out that your house was a hazard and it'll still be over a year before any action could be taken. Now the best thing about this money that's coming in, is it gives money immediately to use," Wallace said.

Erik Hardin is the Environmental Protection Agency's remedial project manager for the Superfund site in Martinsville.

"Funding is what drives this. So now that we know we have funding secured, we can move into this next step," Hardin said.

The EPA has had issues getting enough residents to allow the agency to access their homes to test for PCE in the past — which made it difficult to find out which buildings needed vapor mitigation. 

“We have done outreach and gotten access to significantly more folks this time around,” Hardin said.

Hardin said the EPA got more help from people in the community who talked with residents about the testing effort and assisted with outreach.

Even though the site is getting more funding, it doesn't seem like the cleanup method for the Superfund site will change. Hardin said the one chosen for the site is still the best remedy — there's not a more expensive alternative that would be appropriate. 

READ MORE: EPA announces cleanup plan for polluted water, soil in Martinsville

The Purdue Community Environmental Health Lab and collaborators from the Martinsville Community Action/Advisory Board, the Showalter Project Community Taskforce and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Research Leaders Project are conducting a series of environmental health studies in the Martinsville area.

Wallace said he hopes the funding from the EPA could also be used to address PCE contamination the team found in the city itself.

"We have found a couple hotspots in town where if the concentration was inside your house, you would have to have needed a mitigation system — but this is outside on the sidewalk. So if you were just walking through town, you happen to walk through this — you'd be walking through an area of concern," he said.

Wallace said, granted, the exposure you'd get outside would be lower than inside a home or business. 

The Superfund site in Martinsville is one of 38 Superfunds in Indiana on the EPA’s National Priorities List. The agency said this is just the first round of awards in the more than $3.5 billion allocated to clean up Superfund sites in the infrastructure law.

Contact reporter Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

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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