Chase Elementary School Investigating Possible Well Contamination
Oconto County Times-Herald
November 9, 2011
By Patrick Baird
Special to the Times Herald
The source of well water contamination in the Town of Chase, or even if such contamination exists, is still unknown according to state and federal regulators.
Representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted a public hearing at Sunnyside Elementary School in Chase last week. Students at Sunnyside have been using bottled water for over a year due to concerns about the safety of the school’s well.
The organic contaminant in question is Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or DEHP, which was first detected in significant amounts during a routine public water system compliance test for Sunnyside in June, 2010. DEHP is found in many plastics and does not occur naturally. It can make its way into ground water after leaching out of plastics in landfills, in PVC plumbing, or from items utilized for many other purposes.
According to Kevin Bahr, Facilities Director for Pulaski Community Schools, DEHP was first detected at Sunnyside in 2007 but due to low concentrations no follow-up was required. The sample detected in June 2010, was 38 micrograms per liter (ug/L); the EPA’s maximum contaminant level for DEHP in drinking water is 6 ug/L. In July, 2010, additional follow-up samples tested above 6 ug/L. He added that a total of 37 samples have been collected from Sunnyside, with variable results.
Bahr said that, beginning in August, 2010, the district replaced existing equipment, including a submersible well pump, pump motor, electrical cable, and galvanized drop pipe. They also flushed out and vacuumed out the well. Equipment upgrade and replacement continued through September, 2011; samples taken after latest updates still detected DEHP, but in concentrations under 6 ug/L.
Greg Moeller of the DNR told the crowd that twelve residential wells were tested in the immediate area of the school in August and September, 2011. DEHP was detected in two wells in the initial samples, one of which was over the 6 ug/L level. When re-tested in September neither home had a DEHP detection, but other wells detected low amounts of the contaminant.
Regulators were not able to provide an answer as to the source of the contamination or when or if water would be declared safe to drink, which frustrated some residents and school officials. School District Superintendent Mel Lightner asked Moeller directly: “We really don’t know what’s going on, do we?” Moeller replied: “That’s correct.”
Rob Thiboldeaux of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reassured the crowd about the findings of the tests. “Although this chemical has been found, from time to time, in levels that are above the legal enforcement standard, in the water at the school and in other wells in the area, we do not expect anyone to become ill from drinking this water.” He indicated that DEHP had caused illness in lab animals but there was no scientific consensus on what threat, if any, DEHP posed to humans.
A local representative of the EPA, Kathy Halbur, explained to residents that additional well testing was going to take place this month, with the specific intent of trying to eliminate the possibility of lab error and to gather more information. She was not sure if results would be available for the next public hearing, scheduled for November 28.
Private homeowners were encouraged to conduct their own tests on well water and were given guidance by speakers on how to conduct the tests and handle the samples before sending them to labs. Moeller told residents that they were not required to share results with the EPA or DNR, but he encouraged them to do so to aid in determining the cause and extent of the contamination.
A special website has been set up by the EPA to provide the public information on the situation: http://www.epaosc.org/chasedehp