700 South 1600 East PCE Plume
Site Type: Proposed NPL
City: Salt Lake City
County: Salt Lake
Street Address: Intersection of 700 South & 1600 East
ZIP Code: 84102
EPA ID: UTD981548985
Site Aliases: Mount Olivet Cemetery Plume, Old Dump/Fill Site, VA Hospital PCE Plume
Congressional District: 2
Updated March 2013
With support from Utah Department of Environmental Quality (UDEQ), Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake Valley Health Department, the EPA announced a proposal in September 2012 to add the 700 S. 1600 E. PCE Plume site, in Salt Lake City, Utah to the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is a list of sites across the nation contaminated with hazardous substances, more commonly known as Superfund sites. A 60-day public comment period ended in November 2012 for the proposed Superfund listing. At the close of the public comment period, the EPA reviews the comments and develops a responsiveness summary. This summary will document all comments and the EPA’s response. If the recommendation is to list the site, the action will be finalized in a Federal Register notice. The earliest 700 South 1600 East could be listed on the NPL is April 2013.
Listing on the NPL will make the 700 South 1600 East PCE Plume site eligible for comprehensive assessment and cleanup through the Superfund process. It will also mandate the availability of federal funds for cleanup. Additionally, it will guarantee the public an opportunity to participate in the process.
The 700 South 1600 East PCE Plume site is located near the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, on the east side of Salt Lake City. The preliminary investigation area is bounded on the west side by 900 East, on the north at 500 South, on the east at 1600 East, and on the south by Yale Avenue.
Records used in developing the proposal to the National Priorities List are available at the following locations:
U.S. EPA, Region 8
Superfund Records Center
1595 Wynkoop Street
Denver, CO 80202
9 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon–Fri
Salt Lake City Library, Main Branch
210 E. 400 South, Level 3
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
9 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon–Thur
9 a.m.–6 p.m. Fri–Sat
1 p.m.–5 p.m. Sun
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake Valley Health Department, UDEQ and the EPA will continue to work together to get information out to the community. Please check this Web page frequently for the latest updates, announcements and other site-related news. We have compiled some Frequently Asked Questions and answers below. These will be updated regularly to provide answers to new questions as they arise. We want to keep you informed and also to hear your specific concerns and questions. See the Contacts section below for the names of both the EPA and UDEQ representatives you may contact.
The 700 South 1600 East PCE Plume site is located on the east side bench in Salt Lake City, Utah. The plume is located generally within the area bounded by 500 South and Michigan Avenue and between Guardsman Way and 1100 East. PCE contamination was first detected in this area in the 1990s during routine sampling of the Mount Olivet Cemetery irrigation well. This detection led to the discovery of the 700 South 1600 East PCE Plume site (formerly known as the Mount Olivet Cemetery Plume) and several subsequent investigations. Groundwater concentrations in monitoring wells have reached as high as 320 μg/L (micrograms per liter) in some areas of the plume. The national drinking water standard for PCE is 5.0 μg/L. A 2004 site investigation detected PCE in a Salt Lake City municipal drinking water well at a concentration of 2.23 μg/L. There is some evidence suggesting that PCE levels may continue to increase in this well over time. As a precautionary measure, Salt Lake City Public Utilities has removed the well from service.
In 2010, PCE was discovered again in several residential springs located downgradient of the plume. This discovery led to the establishment of a new site called "East Side Springs." The recently finalized East Side Springs Site Inspection (SI) report confirmed the presence of PCE in the springs and shallow groundwater and concluded that the contamination is likely hydraulically connected to the 700 South 1600 East PCE plume. The full aerial extent of the plume is unknown, but with the recent discovery of downgradient contaminated springs the site covers approximately 300 acres. Left uncontrolled, the 700 South 1600 East PCE Plume could continue to migrate, putting additional public water supplies and residents at risk.
Potential Site Risk
|Media Affected||Contaminants||Suspected Source of Contamination|
|surface water, groundwater and soils or soil vapors||volatile organic compounds, primarily tetrachloroethylene (PCE)||historic dry cleaning operation at the SLC Veterans Affairs Medical Center|
Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) is a manufactured chemical that is widely used for dry cleaning of fabrics and for metal degreasing. Exposure to PCE could pose a threat to human health and the environment. Exposure to very high concentrations of PCE can cause dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness and death. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined that PCE may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen.
In addition to drinking water concerns at the site, PCE in groundwater evaporates easily, allowing vapors to move through the soil and into building through the basement foundations. Since buildings are not air tight, vapors may enter through cracks in the foundation, gaps around pipes, and other openings. In extreme cases, the vapors may accumulate in homes and buildings to levels that may pose acute health effects (e.g., nausea), or aesthetic problems (e.g., odors). Typically, however, chemical concentrations are low or, depending on site-specific conditions, vapors may not be present at detectable concentrations. In residences with low concentrations, chemical exposures over many years may raise the lifetime risk of cancer or chronic disease.
A Site Inspection Analytical Results Report was completed at the East Side Springs site in May 2012. Results from that report are summarized below. The full report for this investigation, as well as other investigations, is available in the Site Documents section below.
Soil Exposure Pathway – Two soil samples were collected to evaluate potential impacts to soils surrounding the residential springs. This sampling was completed to address the concern that contamination found in the springs may infiltrate nearby soils creating a potential exposure risk to residents with springs in their backyards. Soil samples were analyzed for low/medium level VOCs. There were no detections for VOCs in soil samples collected from the site. Results indicate that the soil exposure is not a threat to human health or the environment at this time.
Groundwater Migration Pathway – Ten ground water samples were collected in order to evaluate the migration of VOCs and the threat to municipal drinking water sources. Three samples were taken from existing monitoring wells (established during the 700 South 1600 East PCE Plume investigation), and two samples were taken from municipal drinking water sources (Liberty Park drinking water fountain and the Eighth South Well). The remaining five samples were taken from shallow ground water boreholes near the residential springs. Groundwater samples were analyzed for low/medium VOCs. PCE was detected in a shallow monitoring well at 150 μg/L and in a deep monitoring well at 12 μg/L. No VOCs were detected in either of the municipal drinking water sources sampled, but based on direction of ground water flow they are at risk of becoming contaminated. PCE and trichloroethylene (TCE) were detected in several shallow ground boreholes at concentrations as high as 8.0 μg/L and 12.0 μg/L, respectively. According to the EPA guidance, concentrations for PCE and TCE in ground water as low as 5.0 μg/L may present a risk to nearby residences through vapor intrusion.
Surface Water Migration Pathway – Three surface water samples were collected from residential springs to evaluate potential exposures to residents and ecological receptors. Surface water samples were analyzed for low/medium VOCs. PCE was detected in two surface water samples at concentrations of 3.7 μg/L to 20.0 μg/L. TCE was detected in one surface water sample at a concentration of 4.6 μg/L. Spring water is not believed to be used as a drinking water source, and there was no visual evidence that the springs support any population of ecological receptors or sensitive environments. Children or adults may be at risk for exposure to PCE through absorption resulting from contact with the spring water.
Air Migration Pathway – No air samples were collected as part of this investigation. Much of the site is capped with concrete and asphalt; therefore, the threat of exposure from ambient outdoor air is believed to be relatively low.
At the close of the 60-day public comment period, the EPA reviews the comments and develops a responsiveness summary. This summary will document all comments and the EPA’s response. If the recommendation is to list the site, the action will be finalized in a Federal Register notice. The earliest 700 South 1600 East could be listed on the NPL would be April 2013.
The Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) is the first phase of the Superfund process. Work typically begins once a site is finalized on the NPL. The RI/FS phase of the process determines the nature and extent of contamination at the site, tests whether certain technologies are capable of treating the contamination, and evaluates the cost and performance of technologies that could be used to clean up the site. Community involvement during the RI/FS is highly encouraged. For information on how to get involved, visit www.epa.gov/superfund/community.
You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See the EPA's PDF page to learn more.
Note: Best way to download very large files: right click and save to a folder.
ATSDR Consult Letter, May 2012 (PDF, 4 pp, 228K)
Site Investigation Analytical Results Report, May 2012 (PDF, 197 pp, 34MB)
Preliminary Assessment Report, July 2011 (PDF, 66 pp, 12.7MB)
Site Investigation Analytical Results Report, November 2000 (PDF, 359 pp, 7.9MB)
Frequently Asked Questions
- 1. How did the EPA learn about the PCE plumes in groundwater and seeps in residents' yards?
In the summer of 2010 in response to an oil spill in Red Butte Creek, sampling was conducted by Salt Lake City Public Utilities (SLCPU) to find contamination related to the spill. While no crude oil was detected, tetrachloroethylene, also known as PCE, was detected. After performing some initial sampling, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (UDEQ) requested the EPA's assistance with conducting a further investigation.
- 2. Why is the EPA getting involved now?
After primary sampling efforts by SLCPU and new information about seeps in residential yards, UDEQ asked the EPA to support additional site investigation to determine the level and source of the PCE contamination, and to evaluate potential threats to human health and the environment.
- 3. What is the primary contaminant of concern?
Tetrachloroethylene (PCE), which is a synthetic chemical that is widely used for dry cleaning fabrics and for metal-degreasing operations. It is also used as a starting material (building block) for making other chemicals and is used in some consumer products. PCE is a nonflammable, colorless liquid at room temperature and has a sharp, sweet odor. Other names for PCE include perchloroethylene, perc, tetrachloroethene, perclene and perchlor.
- 4. This problem was identified in the 1990s, why is it just now being addressed?
We only recently discovered springs and shallow groundwater contamination further down on the hill. Prior to that, this was thought to be primarily a groundwater issue, and the city took measures to prevent exposures by removing drinking water wells from service. The discovery of the springs has changed conditions, creating new potential exposure pathways that are more difficult and costly to evaluate and manage. For that reason a more rigorous investigation is needed.
- 5. Is drinking water safe?
Yes. Salt Lake City routinely tests its drinking water pursuant to federal standards. The city removed the impacted drinking water well from service pending additional investigation and mitigation. In addition, the artesian fountains at Liberty Park and at 800 South and 500 East are routinely tested, and no PCE has been detected.
- 6. Is private well water safe to drink?
We are not aware of private wells in the area that are being used for drinking water. If you have a private well in the area that you are drinking from, it is recommended that you have your water tested for PCE and other organic compounds.
- 7. What happens to PCE when it gets into the environment?
Much of the PCE that gets into water and soil will evaporate into the air. However, because PCE can travel through soils quite easily, it can get into groundwater where it may persist without being broken down. If conditions are right, bacteria will break down some of it and some of the chemicals formed may also be harmful. Under some conditions, PCE may stick to the soil and stay there. It does not seem to build up in animals that live in water, such as fish, clams and oysters. We do not know if it builds up in plants grown on land.
- 8. How might I be exposed to PCE and how does it affect my health?
A very common example is when clothes are brought home from the dry cleaners. The sweet odor you smell is a small amount of PCE being released into the air. In addition to breathing contaminated air, you may also drink contaminated water or your skin may come in contact with the water while taking a shower. Exposure to very high concentrations of PCE can cause dizziness headaches, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness and death. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that PCE may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen.
- 9. I’m concerned about the health risks to my family, what can I do now to make sure they are protected?
Public water supplies are safe and Salt Lake City routinely tests its drinking water pursuant to federal standards. If you have a natural spring or private water well on your property, it is recommended that you have your water tested for PCE and other organic compounds before drinking it. There are numerous independent laboratories that can analyze your water sample(s) for a fee. Contact your local or state health department for referral to a certified laboratory in your area. Many of these labs can also analyze indoor air samples; however, you would likely need to hire a contractor with vapor intrusion expertise to collect the sample(s) for you.
- 10. My kids and dogs play in the spring water, are they going to get sick?
We currently know there is a potential for some health risks, but until a thorough investigation is completed we do not know the extent of the risks. This level of investigation takes place during the remedial investigation (RI), which is why the site needs to be placed on the NPL. The long-term effects from inhalation (vapor intrusion) and ingestion (drinking water) at low levels are some of the most concerning issues at this site. Dermal (skin) contact for humans and pets playing in the springs is not likely a serious health concern, based on the PCE concentrations measured in the springs. Assuming some incidental ingestion, inhalation and dermal contact during play, concentrations are still within EPA’s acceptable limits.
- 11. I water my vegetable garden with spring water. Are my vegetables safe to eat?
This is something that would be evaluated in the Remedial Investigation (RI). There are studies which have shown that plant uptake of PCE and other chlorinated solvents are negligible and do not pose a serious risk to human health. PCE is extremely volatile and much of the chemical that gets into the water or soil evaporates into the air before it has a chance to be absorbed by plant tissue.
- 12. Are there any indoor air concerns at this site?
Indoor air may become a concern if vapors from volatile chemicals migrate into air spaces of overlying buildings. This phenomenon is generally referred to as "vapor intrusion." Vapor intrusion is typically influenced by factors such as contaminant concentration, depth of contamination, depth to groundwater, and building construction and condition. Based on several of these factors the potential for vapor intrusion does exist at this site.
- 13. Can the contamination get inside the house?
Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in contaminated soils and/or contaminated groundwater can emit vapors that may migrate through the soil and other air spaces of overlying buildings. This phenomenon is generally referred to as "vapor intrusion." Contaminated vapors typically enter buildings through cracks in basements and foundations, sewer lines and other openings. Vapor intrusion becomes a concern because vapors may build up to a point where the health of residents or workers in those buildings could be at risk.
- 14. Is there a concern for the air quality in this area?
No air samples were collected as part of this investigation. Much of the site is capped with concrete and asphalt; therefore, the threat of exposure from ambient outdoor air is believed to be relatively low.
- 15. Is there a medical test to show whether I have been exposed to PCE?
One way of testing for PCE exposure is to measure the amount of the chemical in the breath, much the same way breath-alcohol measurements are used. A simple blood test can be administered, but this is usually done at specialized laboratories.
- 16. Who is going to pay for the cleanup?
The EPA adheres to the polluter-pays principal. In cases like this, where we have a financially viable PRP (the federal government), the responsible entity would pay for the cleanup. If other PRPs were discovered in the process, their ability to contribute to the investigation and cleanup would be evaluated.
- 17. Have you determined who’s responsible for the contamination?
Yes, we have identified a potentially responsible party (PRP)—the former dry cleaning facility at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VA). There may be others, but as of now we haven’t identified additional PRPs. However, it’s not uncommon to discover additional PRPs during the Remedial Investigation (RI) phase, when more resources are available to conduct a more thorough and comprehensive investigation.
- 18. What is the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) position on this problem?
The VA is aware of the problem and we’ve been in communication with them over the past several months. The EPA is working with the VA to help them understand the problem so they can get resources in place to address it.
- 19. Why does it need to go on the National Priorities List (NPL), can’t the EPA force the VA to clean it up without listing?
We have identified this problem and the potential risks, but we do not know how widespread it is and what the actual risks are. We do know it is bigger than previously thought. Listing the site on the NPL unlocks resources needed to better determine the nature and extent of the contamination, and to address risks if and where they exist. The state and city do not have resources to investigate a problem of this scale. Listing mandates a response, thereby allowing the VA to obtain that level of resources.
- 20. What is the benefit of being listed on the National Priorities List (NPL)?
NPL placement ensure that a comprehensive investigation will occur, that any identified health risks will be addressed and, if necessary, that the problem will be cleaned up. The NPL provides access to technical and financial resources that are otherwise unavailable. In addition to funds for investigation and cleanup, NPL listing unlocks resources for communities to help them better understand the technical issues and guarantees the citizens will have the opportunity to provide input in the process and comment on decisions before they are made. Community involvement is ongoing throughout the investigation and cleanup.
- 21. Will National Priority List (NPL) listing reduce my property values?
Based on past cleanups, the EPA believes that Superfund cleanup has an overall beneficial impact on the community, including rebounding property values. Because the listing of a site on the NPL triggers a federal commitment to do cleanup work, this step reduces uncertainty and may act as a signal to real estate markets that property improvements are imminent.
- 22. This sounds expensive, what impact will this have on care for Veterans or hospital jobs?
The EPA and the VA are two different agencies with separate accounting departments receiving federal funding. The EPA does not know how the VA allocates funding and tracks spending. However, there are many active federal sites on the NPL, and the responsible departments and agencies continue to administer their daily activities while investigating and conducting environmental remediation. Typically funding for these types of problems is spread out over several years, thereby reducing the financial burden and allowing them to be factored into future budget projections and requests, not unlike other infrastructure, facility and maintenance costs.
- 23. Who decides how the site is cleaned up?
The federal government and states have the authority under the Superfund law to make the final clean up decisions. However, the Superfund law also requires that the community be given every opportunity to have meaningful input on how the cleanup is completed. Both the EPA and UDEQ are committed to involving any interested citizens or groups along with local government throughout the decision process.
- 24. How quickly can you start, what has to happen next?
After a public comment period, the EPA reviews the comments and develops a responsiveness summary. This summary will document all comments and the EPA’s response. If the recommendation is to list the site, the action will be finalized in a Federal Register notice. The earliest 700 South 1600 East could be listed on the NPL would be April 2013.
- 25. What voice does the community have after a site is listed?
The EPA works very closely with communities and states during the cleanup process at federal sites. Some communities choose to be very involved and form a Community Advisory Group, others do not. The EPA welcomes input and involvement from all stakeholders. Technical Assistance Grants and other financial resources are available to communities to encourage and facilitate meaningful involvement. For more information about community involvement at Superfund sites, visit www.epa.gov/superfund/community.
- 26. How are the site boundaries determined in the National Priorities List (NPL) process?
Superfund designation includes the source of the contamination and wherever contamination may have spread and is a threat to human health and the environment. When the site is proposed, a basic area is described in the listing package, a report prepared and sent to EPA headquarters supporting why the site qualifies for placement on the National Priorities List (NPL). Boundaries are not determined until after the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) are complete. If more contamination is found later in the cleanup process the boundaries may be changed to include the new area. If less contamination is found than suspected, the boundaries may be changed to reflect the smaller size.
- 27. Who do I contact to get more information or if I want to be involved somehow?
Site Assessment Manager
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8
1595 Wynkoop Street (EPR-B)
Denver, CO 80202-1129
800-227-8917 ext. 312-6627 (toll free Region 8 only)
Community Involvement Coordinator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8
1595 Wynkoop Street (8OC)
Denver, CO 80202-1129
800-227-8917 ext. 312-6083 (toll free Region 8 only)
Utah Department of Environmental Quality
195 North 1950 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84116
Community Involvement Coordinator
Utah Department of Environmental Quality
195 North 1950 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84116