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2015-05-07

EPA adding Burnet plume to Superfund site list

Special to the Courier

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to add the Main Street Groundwater Plume site in Burnet County to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites, a list of sites that pose risks to people's health and the environment. Superfund is the federal program that investigates and cleans up the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country and converts them into productive community resources by eliminating or reducing public health risks and environmental contamination.
The site lies about one mile south of the city of Burnet between County Road 340 and County Road 340 A. A plume of tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, was found in the groundwater in this area during monitoring of the Bertram Public Water Supply in 2010. The source of the contamination is unknown.
"Reliable access to water resources is vital for families and businesses," said EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry. "Addressing this contamination will help alleviate the risk to the community."
The plume released into the Ellenburger-San Saba Aquifer, and contaminated two public water supply wells and seven private wells. Monitoring indicates levels in drinking water wells are below EPA's health-based maximum contaminant level (MCL). Two wells that exceed the MCL are used for irrigation and livestock watering. Exposure to PCE could harm the nervous system, liver, kidneys, and reproductive system, and may lead to higher risk of some types of cancer.
Recent academic research, from the study Superfund Cleanups and Infant Health, demonstrated that investment in Superfund cleanups reduces the incidence of congenital abnormalities for those living within 5,000 meters (or 5,468 yards) of a site.
Another study conducted by researchers at Duke and Pittsburgh Universities, concluded that making a site final on the NPL may increase housing prices by signaling that a site will be cleaned up. Furthermore, the study found that once a site has all cleanup remedies in place, nearby properties have a significant increase in property values as compared to pre-NPL proposal values.
With all NPL sites, EPA works to identify companies or people responsible for the contamination at a site, and requires them to conduct or pay for the cleanup. For the newly listed sites without viable potentially responsible parties, EPA will investigate the extent of the contamination before assessing how best to treat it.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the enactment of the Comprehensive Environmental, Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program. Superfund's passage was a giant step forward in cleaning up legacy industrial waste sites to help ensure human health and environmental protection. The Superfund law gives EPA the authority to clean up releases of hazardous substances and directs EPA to update the NPL at least annually.
The NPL contains the nation's most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites. The list serves as the basis for prioritizing both enforcement actions and long-term EPA Superfund cleanup funding; only sites on the NPL are eligible for such funding.