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EPA has received initial results for Elmwood Avenue investigation in Burlington, Vt.

08/23/2018
Contact Information: 
Emily Bender (bender.emily@epa.gov)
(617) 918-1037

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VT DEC), in consultation with the Vermont Department of Health, have been conducting an environmental investigation around Elmwood Avenue in Burlington's Old North End neighborhood, due to a concern that two chemicals – perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE) – may have contaminated the soil and entered the air.

During the week of August 6, 2018, testing was performed to confirm the presence and measure the extent of possible PCE and TCE contamination in the neighborhood and the nearby Integrated Arts Academy. The investigation is focused on soil gas (air pockets between soil particles), and on indoor air because people are most likely to be exposed to the chemicals indoors. When these chemicals are inhaled, they can be harmful to human health.

EPA has now received the results from this initial sampling effort. The test results show that these chemicals are not present at a level that would pose a health risk to students, staff or faculty at the school. There is also no related health concern with activities on or involving the soil on the school grounds, and there is no indication in the scientific literature that homegrown produce is affected by the presence of PCE and TCE in soil gas.

TCE was not found in any of the samples collected on the school grounds or inside the school. PCE was detected in two of the three indoor air samples taken at the school. The PCE levels are below the levels that would present a health risk to the adults (5 microgram per meter cubed (µg/m3)) and children who attend the school (17 µg/m3). The highest level of PCE detected, 1 µg/m3 in the basement central room, was well below EPA's criteria for a federal response. However, the PCE in the indoor air of the school is above Vermont's regulatory value of 0.63 µg/m3. Therefore, VT DEC will work with the school to recommend mitigation steps for the indoor air.

During the week of August 27, EPA and VT DEC investigators will be back in Burlington to begin a second round of sampling to try to identify the possible source(s) of the PCE and TCE. This effort will consist of indoor air sampling in selected homes as well as some additional soil gas sampling in public roads. EPA and VT DEC will continue to coordinate with the Health Department and with residents of the affected homes, and will continue to keep the school and community updated as the investigation proceeds.

"Our work in Burlington, Vt is an example of EPA working closely with state partners to protect public health," said EPA regional administrator Alexandra Dunn. “We look forward to being back in the field next week to continue the investigation and monitoring work."

"Protecting the health of the residents, students and teachers who live and work in the affected areas along Elmwood Ave is our priority," said Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore. "The indoor air quality test results at the Integrated Arts Academy were encouraging and show that it is safe for students, teachers, and staff to be at school. Because of our commitment to public and environmental health, we have additional testing planned throughout the area in the coming weeks and months to further our understanding of the extent of the contamination and make sure there aren't any increases in chemical levels in the school."

In July, VT DEC had received information documenting the presence of chemical vapors in the soil gas (air pockets between the grains of soil underground) along Elmwood Avenue in Burlington. VT DEC requested assistance from EPA to investigate further.

More information about the chemicals:

PCE and TCE are often associated with dry cleaning and degreasing solvents. PCE and TCE are part of a group of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs can transfer from groundwater into a gas and move through the tiny open spaces between soil particles. Soil gas can enter structures through a basement or crawl space, walls or floors, particularly when holes or cracks are present. Once in a structure, the colorless and often odorless gas may collect in the basement or move to upper levels. The movement of VOCs from soil gas into a structure is referred to as vapor intrusion.

For more information about this investigation:
http://dec.vermont.gov/waste-management/contaminated-sites/Elmwood Exit

For more information about potential health effects:
http://www.healthvermont.gov/environment/chemicals/dry-cleaning-chemicals Exit