Editor’s note: This is the first in a short series of stories pointing to possible contaminants in the Pennsylvania Ave. area.
By Bonnie Culverhouse
Toxin levels at the defunct Imperial Cleaners building at 211 Pennsylvania Ave. and the surrounding buildings are high, according to a report to Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and Dr. Brian Salvatore, chemistry professor at LSU-S.
After letters were mailed to businesses in the area on April 22, 2022, Salvatore was contacted by concerned citizens, informing him there were facilities with children nearby.
From nine soil gas samples taken in February, highest levels (shown in the above photo) are of tetrachloroethylene, used as a solvent in dry cleaning business.
“That is the only chlorinated ethylene derivative that resists aerobic biodegradation,” Salvatore explained. “My concern is what is seeping up into confined spaces inside the buildings around there.”
According to the report, samples were taken five feet deep into the soil in a five-acre area surrounding the cleaners building.
Salvatore said the concentrations are 1,000 times above safe levels in soil gas, and compounds stay in the body for at least two weeks.
“Daily exposure means they are always there,” he added.
The map shows high levels in the cleaners’ building, the old Webster Parish Health Unit, which now houses the Head Start offices and the Webster Parish Community Services building on Gleason Street.
The Imperial Cleaners property is still owned by the Taylor family. Owner and manager of Imperial Cleaners, Felix Taylor, died from cancer in 1997, and there have been other reports of illnesses and cancer from various businesses in the area. Attempts to reach the Taylor family were met with disconnected phone numbers.
In 2009, LDEQ was contacted to remove from inside Imperial Cleaners a drum containing chemicals. They reportedly contracted with Leaaf Environmental, LLC (Leaaf) to take care of the issue.
In 2010 and 2011 soil and groundwater samples were taken and the site investigated. Five years passed before it was investigated again. In 2018, the report claims indoor and outdoor air sampling was taken. In 2020, sub slab vapor, soil and groundwater were tested and in 2021 indoor and ambient air testing took place.
The most recent report – conducted by Leaaf for LDEQ – shows large concentrations in the alley immediately west of the (cleaners) warehouse. They exhibit highest detected concentrations of tetrachloroethylene and trichoroethene soil gas results with a potential for off-site vapor input.
In the report, the question is posed: is there off-site contamination? Answer, yes.
Centers for Disease Control’s website asks the question, How likely is tetrachloroethylene to cause cancer?
“Studies in humans suggest that exposure to tetrachloroethylene might lead to a higher risk of getting bladder cancer, multiple myeloma, or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“In animals, tetrachloroethylene has been shown to cause cancers of the liver, kidney, and blood system.
“The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) considers tetrachloroethylene to be reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen. EPA considers tetrachloroethylene likely to be carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) considers tetrachloroethylene probably carcinogenic to humans,” CDC’s website concludes.
In a letter to Dr. Earthea Nance, Region 6 administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, Salvatore said he is aware of persons working in surrounding businesses who have severe headaches, extreme fatigue, gastrointestinal pain and cancer.
“(In LDEQ’s report) … note the presence of at least 25 contaminents/classes of concern in the Table,” Salvatore’s letter says. “… concentrations of tetrachloroethylene as high as 7,120,000 ug/m3 in the alley.”
Solvents containing tetrachloroethylne were flushed down a drain at Imperial Cleaners.
LDEQ’s report confirms there are water aquifers beneath the affected area, “between 0-100 feet thick over much of the western half and southern third of the parish (including the facility).”
“I am very concerned about the aquifers,” Salvatore said. “If the chemicals continue to seep into the soil, eventually they will get to the drinking water.”
In addition, in a letter to DEQ, Leaaf reports there were underground storage tanks containing petroleum products at the cleaning building. “They been removed but may have leaked,” the letter reads.
Salvatore’s letter calls on EPA Region 6 to “step in and oversee LDEQ’s assessment and potential remediation.”
City official Brent Cooley said the Imperial Cleaners building has not been condemned by the city, nor has anyone at the city been contacted by LDEQ, to his knowledge. The most recent investigation of the property began after the city tested for sewer gases in December, 2021, and smoke began to rise from those properties.
To view the LDEQ’s report, visit the department’s website.
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