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Dangerous Chemicals Found In More Wells

Apr 6, 2003 | Palm Beach Post

Cancer-causing chemicals found in gasoline have been identified in nine more wells in Old Palm City, a finding that Martin County Health Department officials say shows water contamination in the neighborhood is spreading.

Health department samplings conducted in late 2002 and January showed nine more private wells in the neighborhood bounded by Martin Downs Boulevard, Mapp Road and the St. Lucie River were contaminated with chemicals used in gasoline, including benzene and napthalene.

That study of 142 neighborhood wells found 39 wells had those chemicals in trace amounts that did not exceed state standards.

Since 1988, contamination that exceeds state standards has been found in 25 wells in the neighborhood.

The cause of the contamination, health department officials say, was leaking tanks at three gas stations along Mapp Road.

Willie Puz, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Jack's Service Station, Texaco Minit Mart and Speedway all reported "discharges" between 1988 and 1999.

Speedway already has cleaned up the site, while Jack's Service Station and Texaco continue to work on the cleanup.

But groundwater contamination in the area has continued to spread, health officials say.

"Some of the contamination has spread out," Environmental Health Director Bob Washam said. "It's very likely that it's related to these three gas stations."

Washam is quick to say that short-term exposure to the chemicals poses little health risk.

"The health danger would usually be drinking the water over a lifetime," he said. "People in this area have been drinking the water for a short period of time. The short term use of the water is really not a danger."

The most recent wells identified had levels of benzene at about four times the safe level, Washam said.

The highest levels were reported at two wells tested on 33rd Street, which had benzene levels at 20 times the safe level, he said.

Of the 25 affected wells, the DEP has paid to connect 21 homes to county water lines. DEP officials have installed a special filter on wells at the remaining six homes to remove the chemicals, Washam said.

Wells that showed trace amounts of benzene are retested four times a year, and residents are notified of the contamination level, Washam said.

But those residents aren't given any recommendation by the health department on what to do about the contamination.

"We just let them know they have trace amounts, we don't make any recommendations," Washam said.

After reading the health department's report on groundwater contamination in Old Palm City, Commissioner Michael DiTerlizzi said he was concerned about "areas where wells were contaminated but there was no filter."

He said he wants to be sure that all affected homes have either been hooked up to county water or a filter has been placed on the well.

"We shouldn't have people with contamination and no filter," he said.

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