Residents still concerned about health after homes test safe

Resident Ghali Hasan expresses his concerns at a meeting held at Hanes Hosiery Recreation Center last week about groundwater contamination in his neighborhood.

Residents still concerned about health after homes test safe
May 05
05:20 2016

Photo by Todd Luck



City and state officials said that tests show the neighborhood is safe around the former Hanes and Lowrance middle schools, but residents still expressed concerns about their health at a meeting held Thursday, April 28 at the Hanes Hosiery Recreation Center.

The concerns involved PCE and TCE that contaminated land at the Kaba Ilco site and the groundwater in the surrounding area. The surrounding community uses City water and there are no supply wells in the area, so water residents use has been tested and is safe. The concern is that as contaminated groundwater evaporates, its vapors rise up though the ground. Officials say the vapors normally dissipate harmlessly though the soil, but could prove hazardous in an enclosed space like a building. These concerns already caused the Hanes and Lowrance Schools to move from the area last year, even after seven air tests found no danger at the school.

Keith Huff, director of Winston-Salem’s Stormwater Management, presented the results of testing done to determine if houses in the neighborhood were at risk. Of the 36 homes tested, only three came back with elevated levels of PCE and TCE in sub-slab soil gas samples, which involved coring into the slab beneath a home and extracting air for testing. Though toxins can exist in elevated levels in sub-slab tests, it doesn’t mean that vapors were able to get into the home. The air tested safe in one of those homes. The other two had elevated levels of the vapors in the basement, but not in the living spaces in the upper levels of the homes, which tested safe. Since the vapors are dangerous in regular, long-term exposure, those homes are considered safe, but further testing will be conducted to confirm the findings.

“They’re just an area where additional interest lies, not to say there’s any human health risk associated with this, but further study may be required,” said Huff.

Tests were done by both City and Kaba Ilco employees. The site that Kaba Ilco, a lock manufacturer, sits on has long been an industrial site and the company says it’s been working with State officials to deal with contamination it inherited. The tests were supervised by the State Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and were conducted based on standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Residents expressed worries about the small sample of homes tested. Huff explained that the tests focused on an area of concern, or “hot spots,” where toxicity was most concentrated in the ground-water. These concentrations were determined by sampling soil vapors, along with groundwater from 84 monitoring wells installed by the City and Kaba Ilco to monitor where the underground toxic plume is, which moves over time. Huff said afterward that they’ll be testing several more houses within the “hot spots” that residents want tested.

Another common question was why residents didn’t know sooner. Clean-up efforts at the factory site began under previous owners in 1988. By 1996, 3,000 tons of contaminated dirt had been removed. DEQ’s Jim Bateson said that the concern at the time was ground water and the risk was thought to only be if someone drank it. He said the understanding of the risk changed around 2005 when the long-term danger of inhaling the contaminated vapors became known. He said community meetings were held back then.

The clean-up efforts continue with Kaba Ilco using machines that turn contaminated groundwater into vapor that is then pumped out. Kaba Ilco is planning on moving its operations from the site, but does plan to see clean up and testing of the pollution through under DEQ supervision.

“At this site, there’s unfinished business, too, and it’s under your neighborhood,” said Bateson.

That unfinished business was a big concern to residences, who wondered if ills, including cancer, infant mortality, hair falling out and headaches, were due to the pollution. Ghali Hasan was among the residents asking for health studies to be done in the neighborhood.

“Ain’t none of you no doctors,” he told officials. “The Health Department should have been brought in.”

There will be other meetings held to update the community on testing and clean up. Bateson said there will be a health expert at the next meeting.

Groundwater Pollution Committee Chair Waunzo Sherard said he had concerns about if health issues faced by him and his family were caused by the pollution. He was not satisfied with the assurances officials have given the community so far.

“We’re not going to settle for non-answers,” said Sherard.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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