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EPA and General Electric Company Sign Agreement to Protect Drinking Water at Cayuga County, New York Superfund Site; Drinking Water Impacted by Volatile Organic Compounds

Release Date: 09/19/2012
Contact Information: Michael Basile (716) 551-4410;

      (New York, N.Y.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has signed an agreement with the General Electric Company requiring the company to take over the maintenance and replace, if necessary, treatment systems on wells that supply drinking water to four properties within the Cayuga County Ground Water Contamination Superfund site. GE will pay $50,000 of the EPA’s past costs associated with the site, as well as the EPA’s costs of overseeing the work under the agreement.

      The drinking water of many properties had become contaminated by volatile organic compounds that seeped into the ground water from a facility on Genessee Street in Auburn, N.Y. GE and a related company, Powerex, Inc., manufactured semiconductors at the site. Volatile organic compounds can cause serious damage to people’s health and the environment. In late 2000, in response to contamination detected in drinking water wells, the EPA installed treatment systems at 55 properties in order to provide safe drinking water. All but the four properties included in the agreement were eventually connected to public water supplies. The EPA has been maintaining the four treatment systems since 2001.

      “This agreement allows EPA to continue the important work of addressing toxic contamination at this site without having tax payers foot the bill,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “The work to be conducted by GE at this site will ensure that the water from these four drinking water systems continues to be protected.”

      The site was added to the federal Superfund list in 2002. The EPA conducted an in-depth investigation of the extent of the contamination in order to determine how best to clean it up over the long term.

      The EPA presented its proposed cleanup plan at a public meeting on August 2, 2012 in Union Springs, NY. The proposal divides the site ground water into three areas for planning purposes. For Area 1, which is the most contaminated area and is located immediately south of the former Genessee Street facility, the agency will use bioremediation. Bioremediation involves adding chemicals and biological enhancements to the ground water to promote the breakdown of the volatile organic compounds. The specific type of chemical and process to be used will be determined by the EPA as part of the design of the cleanup.

      For the two other areas of ground water, which contain lower levels of contamination, the EPA is proposing to rely on natural processes to reduce the level of contamination to meet ground water standards. These areas are Area 2, located immediately south-southwest of Area 1, and Area 3 located south and southwest of Area 2. In order for natural processes to work quickly and completely enough, the right conditions must exist underground. In this case, the EPA believes the right conditions exist in Areas 2 and 3. The EPA is requiring periodic collection and analysis of ground water samples to verify that the level and extent of contaminants will decline.

      In addition, an important aspect of the long-term cleanup of ground water at the Cayuga County Ground Water Contamination site involves cleanup actions being conducted by GE and overseen by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation at the former Genessee Street facility, which is the major source of the contamination impacting the area ground water. Successful completion of the cleanup of the ground water at this facility is important to the full realization of the benefits of the EPA’s proposed cleanup plan. New York and the EPA are working closely to coordinate their cleanup efforts.

      Superfund is the federal cleanup program established by Congress in 1980 to investigate and clean up the country’s most hazardous sites. The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups, rather than passing the costs to taxpayers. When sites are placed on the Superfund list, the EPA looks for parties responsible for the pollution and requires them to pay for the cleanups. Cleanups are only funded by taxpayer dollars when those legally responsible for the pollution cannot be found or are not financially viable. In this instance, the EPA has spent about $10 million in response costs, to date, primarily on investigations and studies and will be seeking to have the selected cleanup carried out by those responsible for the contamination at the site.

      For more information on the Cayuga County Ground Water Contamination Superfund site, please visit: