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N. Phoenix Well Water Being Tested

Former site of propellant maker shows high contaminant levels

Mar 24, 2004 | Arizona Republic The state's top environmental official is warning residents living next to a north Phoenix plant to switch to bottled water after high levels of perchlorate contamination were found in groundwater samples.

However, officials with Goodrich Corp., which operates the former Universal Propulsion Co. site at Happy Valley Road and Central Avenue, said there is no threat to residents along Yearling Road, north of their site, because they believe the groundwater flows southwest in the area.

The company on Tuesday reported it had found perchlorate levels ranging from 43 parts per billion to 130 ppb in groundwater wells on the southeastern corner of its property. There is no health standard for perchlorate in either federal or state regulations, although the state has a guideline of 14 ppb.

The findings came as a result of a Phoenix request that the firm drill two monitor wells as a condition of seeking city approval for its expansion plans.

The news is sure to heighten the opposition of some area residents to Goodrich's plan to move its California propulsion system to north Phoenix. And it feeds the growing controversy over perchlorate, a common ingredient used in the manufacture of propellants and explosives, such as the ejection seats that Goodrich's aircraft interior products division makes.

Although there is no standard for how much perchlorate is acceptable, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is researching one and California has proposed a 6 ppb standard. The Department of Defense wants a 200 ppb standard.

Perchlorate has been shown to inhibit the function of the thyroid gland.

Steve Owens, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality director, said the high readings should signal caution for residents along Yearling Road, the plant's northern boundary, who rely on well water.

"Until we get a clear answer on whether drinking-well water is contaminated, we will require UPCO to provide bottle water to those residents," Owens said.

Beginning today, company representatives will ask residents along Yearling Road, between Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue, for permission to sample their well water.

DEQ will monitor the work. The firm has agreed to return test results within 24 hours.

"We're just trying to rule out contamination," said DEQ spokesman Patrick Gibbons. The agency doesn't believe the local residents have polluted well water, but it wants to be cautious, he said.

Goodrich officials said they will offer to test the tap water of the approximately 15 homes along Yearling Road, and will provide bottled water to the residents if they request it.

At an earlier news briefing, Christine Probett, president of the aircraft-products division, said company officials were surprised at the perchlorate readings. That's because earlier soil samples showed contamination tapered off at 60 feet below ground, whereas groundwater is about 210 feet below the surface.

Probett said the company will move quickly to figure out the extent of perchlorate contamination and to test its belief that the groundwater flow is away from, not toward, residential areas.

But she would not comment on whether the company would remediate the contamination.

"I think what we have to do first is understand what we have," she said. That could take several months, she added.

Goodrich employees use a drinking-water well on the site and will continue to do so, she said. Periodic tests have shown perchlorate readings ranging from non-detectable to 2 ppb.

The high readings reported Tuesday are believed to come from a washout area that the former Universal Propulsion Co. used, Probett said. The contamination happened before Goodrich acquired the company five years ago, Probett said, although she did not have an idea of how long ago.

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