High levels of TCE found in Collegeville

Source: http://www.pottstownmercury.com, January 23, 2007
By: Evan Brandt

Monitoring has found dangerously high levels of a carcinogenic chemical in the air around Collegeville, state officials have announced.

The levels are higher than anywhere else in the region and the state is now trying to reduce emissions of that chemical from two local factories.

The chemical in question is tetrachloroethylene, better known as TCE, and it has been linked to having a “significant bearing on excess lifetime cancer risks,” according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

It was the DEP that has been monitoring the air in Collegeville since last January, when it set up stations in Evansburg State Park and at the YMCA in Trappe.

The monitoring stations were set up after a mobile testing truck found abnormally high levels of TCE in the area in late 2004.

They tested for 55 different substances in a family of “air toxics’ called volatile organic compounds, a family of which TCE is a member.

They found 29 at the Evansburg site and 30 at the Trappe site, but only TCE was at a high enough level to raise the alarm with DEP officials.

There are no government standards set for a safe level of TCE in the air, so the DEP instead compared the results in Collegeville to three other monitoring sites in Delaware County.

The annual average of those three sites is 0.03 parts per billion by volume of airborne TCE.

But at the Evansburg site, the average was 0.14 ppbv and it was even higher, 0.26 ppbv, in Trappe.

“We have concerns about the Collegeville-area monitoring results,” said Joseph A. Feola, the director of the DEP office in Norristown that oversaw the monitoring.

The two area facilities in the area that are licensed to emit TCE into the air are Superior Tube and Accellent, once known as Uniform Tube, said DEP spokeswoman Lynda Rebarchak.

Neither is exceeding its permitted emission limit for TCE, said Francine Carlini, the head of DEP’s air program for the Norristown office.

“It could be a combination of the two overwhelming (the air quality) of the immediate area,” Rebarchak said.

“But they are not the only two facilities in the area emitting TCE,” Rebarchak said. “Also, the local water company has air scrubbers that are emitting TCE they’re stripping out of the groundwater so the water is safe for use.”

DEP officials plan to ask both Superior and Accellent to reduce their TCE emissions and Carlini said two meetings with Superior have already produced “encouraging feedback.”

But that’s not the only meeting in the works.

A public meeting at which area residents can ask questions about the results is scheduled for Feb. 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Musser Auditorium in the Pfahler Building of Ursinus College in Collegeville.

Carlini said currently, state regulations do not allow the DEP to take existing facilities into account when permitting a new polluter.

So despite the fact that two plants appear to be emitting enough TCE to cause a health concern in the area, if a new plant that also emitted TCE were to apply for a permit in the Collegeville area tomorrow, it could not be denied on the basis of the current health threat.

However, she said a “shifting focus” by government regulators may give birth to a new method of making these decisions in the near future.

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates “air toxics” like TCE by requiring that emitters use the best technology available for reducing the pollution.

However, the EPA has now determined that when it comes to TCE, even after the best technology is applied, a “residual risk” to human health and to the environment remains, Carlini said.

In the case of TCE, the EPA defines a “residual risk as anything greater than one-in-a-million” chance of getting cancer as a result of exposure, she said.

“So what the EPA is looking at now is to cap emissions and they have two proposals, to cap it at 6.7 tons per year, and another at 11 tons per year,” Carlini explained.

“I think the monitoring we did supports that conclusion, that there is still a residual risk to the public and the easiest thing to do is to try to reduce emissions,” she said.

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