EPA discusses Chamberlain groundwater contamination - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

EPA discusses Chamberlain groundwater contamination

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WATERLOO (KWWL) - A warning from the Environmental Protection Agency - contaminant vapors could be leaking into homes near an old manufacturing plant.  It all stems from the former Chamberlain Manufacturing plant on 550 Esther St. in Waterloo.  The EPA says contaminants from spills at the plant leaked into the groundwater.  Now vapor from that water could be seeping into neighboring homes.  The city of Waterloo still plans to demolish most of the buildings on the Chamberlain site in the early spring.  The EPA is working with Chamberlain's parent company.  It would be to continue monitoring and evaluate cleanup options.  There are high levels of some chemicals in the groundwater in the area just south and west of the site along E. 4th St. in Waterloo.

Patricia Gary lives across the street from the old Chamberlain plant.  She took part in Thursday night's public meeting by the city and EPA to talk about efforts to detect contamination and efforts to clean up the site.  She's watched it go from a vibrant manufacturing facility to a site of disrepair.  Now, she's pushing for the EPA and the city to clean up the site and the surrounding area.

"When we bought the home, the realtor said Chamberlain builds shell casings for the military. I was not aware of anything else that went on there. Wasn't concerned about it. Never had a clue. Otherwise, we wouldn't have bought in that area," said Gary.

For decades, Chamberlain Manufacturing made metal washing machine ringers.  Later, it made weapons for the Defense Department including the Patriot missile.  The plant closed in the 1990's.  The EPA later discovered high levels of organic compounds called TCEs and PCEs had contaminated the ground water.  Testing in 10 area basements took place in the last year.

"To some degree, the basement floor's acting like a barrier. They can have cracks, sumps, ways that vapor can seep through and get into the airspace. That will take further study. We have a potential for risk," said EPA Project Manager Stephanie Doolan.

Doolan says they'd like to test about 20 homes to the south and west of the plant to get a better idea of how far the contamination spread.

"The testing is rather obtrusive. You have to drill holes in people's basement floors and collect smamples from the vapors below that but the fix is a lot like radon gas. We just need to put in a vent system to vent airspace in the basement," said Doolan.

Gary says regardless of the outcome, her family's stuck.

"I'd like to get out of there. I can't afford to move. My husband is very ill, don't know if Chamberlain is causing that or not, with grandkids living and raising them, it's too expensive. I'm between a rock and a hard place. What will I do?" asked Gary.

The EPA says the contamination is not in the Waterloo water system.  But they say anyone that has a well in the area near the former plant should not use it.

Online Reporter:  Bob Waters

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