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PCE contaminated well water detected in six Greenwood homes

Effective June 29, 2018, the Falmouth area is under a boil water advisory.
The water woes continue for some homeowners in Greenwood. - Carole Morris-Underhill (file)

GREENWOOD, N.S. - Half a dozen homes in Greenwood have well water that is contaminated with unacceptable levels of a chemical connected to dry cleaning, new tests by the provincial Department of Environment show.

The department carried out testing of 30 properties between August and September 2017, finding that four had unacceptable levels of the chemical tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene or PCE.

In a letter to the Municipality of Kings County, the director of the Environment Department’s western region inspection division said the initial results led to further sampling at other selected properties in December 2017 and February 2018.

Lori Skaine said the six homes identified out of 33 tested had PCE levels above the acceptable federal guidelines of 10 micrograms per litre.

The groundwater contamination was linked to a 1995 fire at a dry cleaning operation on Central Avenue. Improper waste water handling in years before the fire was also identified as a possible cause of contamination.

The municipality extended its water utility to the area in 2005, but not all homeowners opted to hook up to the system.

Skaine said in the letter that for most people, the potential health risks occur over long periods of time. PCE is a probable carcinogen, and ingesting high levels of the chemical can cause liver, kidney and nervous system damage.

She said experts don’t anticipate immediate health concerns for most people, but “we are recommending that people at these six properties not use the well water for drinking, making hot or cold beverages, or food preparation.”

Boiling the water does not remove the chemicals, and the chemical can also enter the body when vapours are inhaled when bathing, showering, and washing dishes by hand.

Skaine said the department is telling residents in the area that their best source for water is the municipal supply, but another option is properly testing and treating the water. They are contacting homeowners with unacceptable test results directly.

While the water was likely contaminated in the fire or before, the problem wasn’t discovered until August 2004, during unrelated follow up work by a consultant into a 2001 fuel spill at a car wash in the area.

The initial 2001 report that noted the presence of PCE in tests, but no one noticed that information because the focus was on results related to the fuel.

Kings County mayor Peter Muttart was not available Aug. 29.

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