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Residents Come Out To Hear About EPA’s TCE Testing

EPA agent says that the TCE testing is only precautionary.

Residents came out to listen to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agent’s presentation on how the agency will be testing for trichloroethylene (TCE) and other substances in Havertown.

Ruth Scharr, an EPA on-scene coordinator, told residents that as a precautionary measure the agency will be testing 14 homes located between Eagle Road and Rittenhouse Circle. (Please see map for study area in the slideshow attachment.)

Scharr said that the agency will be testing for TCE and other contaminant vapors — which can be found in the subsurface of the ground and seeping into the overlying building, in this case a house — that maybe in people’s homes.

The EPA, she added, has enough data from studies involving soil and gas samples that are not underneath the homes and those types of tests will not be conducted during this new vapor study.

Scharr said that the EPA does not have any data about whether or not people will be impacted by any possible vapors.

According to a slideshow that Scharr presented to the audience, TCE is a nonflammable, colorless liquid with a sweet odor and a burning, sweet taste. It evaporates easily and is mostly used to remove grease from metal. It can be found in groundwater and surface waters as a result of its manufacture, use and disposal, according to the slideshow.

She said that testing during the winter is the best time of year to determine how much TCE vapors are in people’s homes because windows are closed, trapping any possible vapors.

“I want to come out and get data beneath people’s homes to see if those vapors are actually raising up to the subsurface and the buck really stops if it’s actually getting into their house," Scharr said.

She told the estimated 15 to 20 people on Wednesday night that the EPA will not know if there is TCE, which does not occur naturally in the environment, or other substances in the air without doing the study.

The study will start Tuesday, Feb. 22. of this year.

The study will determine if vapors are getting into the homes and if the vapor amounts discovered will be cause for a health concern, Scharr said, but she also stressed that she does not think that people are in any danger.

Homeowners who agree to participate in the study may have small holes drilled into their basement. The diameter of the hole would be that of a quarter.

Then, Scharr said, a tube-like probe will be inserted into the hole and the other end of the tube will be connected to a canister, which will collect any possible vapors.

From start to finish, it will take three days for the testing to be completed, but they will not be consecutive ones, described Scharr.

The canisters will be sent to the laboratory, where the validated results will be ready in about two months, Scharr said.

If TCE or another substance is detected vapors are detected, the EPA will install a vapor extraction system to the home that will send the vapors harmlessly into the air, she said. The system will look very similar to the ones used to remove radon.

The EPA will cover the costs involved in the study and the removal of any substance vapors, according to Scharr.

At the time of the meeting, Scharr said of the 14 homes that were selected for the study and that five homeowners have agreed to the study, while two have declined. The rest are still determining if they will participate, she said.

During a question and answer session, some residents felt that the Havertown Pentachlorophenol (PCP) Superfund Site was the reason for the TCE testing, such as Stan Shapiro, 71. Shapiro said that he has thyroid cancer and he believes that it is linked to the Superfund Site.

But Scharr said that she does not know the source of the TCE and told the audience that Haverford Township is responsible for the former chewing gum building near the Superfund Site.

(Editor's note: It was mistakenly reported that Haverford Township is responsible for the Superfund Site. The EPA is actually responsible for it.)

Scharr told the group that the EPA will create a Web site, http://www.epaosc.org/TCE_Havertown, that will easily provide information to the public regarding the TCE study.

To view the slideshow that Scharr presented to the audience, please see the attached PDF document.

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