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About 60 Grand Rapids properties slated for EPA testing

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Environmental authorities begin residential testing efforts after higher-than-expected air contamination closed a structure in southeast Grand Rapids.

Officials hope to gather samples at about 60 surrounding homes and properties in the next week.

“We’re trying to look at these 60 properties just as a precaution – to make sure that the indoor air is safe.”

Betsy Nightingale is an on-scene coordinator with the Environmental Protection Agency. She’s been in southeast Grand Rapids since testing at the site on the corner of Madison Avenue SE and Hall Street SE found the elevated levels.

The term for this is vapor intrusion.

She says the EPA’s conducted extensive neighborhood outreach the past couple of weeks. 

Sampling begins this week. 

Credit Photo Mariano Avila | Image MDEQ/EPA Presentation
The EPA hopes to gather samples at properties inside this boundary. The red pin is the site of the former drycleaner, where authorities found higher-than-allowed vapor intrusion levels.

A special mobile unit comes to town the week of June 20 for testing and results.

“And we can use that to collect some real-time data on air below the houses, and in the basements, and determine whether or not we have problems with PCE in the indoor air in those areas.”

PCE stands for Tetrachloroethylene, which is a chemical that was commonly used in drycleaning operations. The business operating there closed in 1995.

The EPA is also testing for Trichloroethylene or TCE, which is a compound used as a solvent, commonly to clean metal.

TCE is classified as a carcinogen. PCE has not been formally classified, but health agencies believe it’s a reasonable conclusion.

Both are harmful to humans, particularly at acute or long-term exposure levels. Short-term effects include headaches, dizziness or skin rashes.

The work began last month after the presence of PCE and TCE was identified. Health officials deemed the structure unsafe for occupancy in May, displacing two non-profits and apartments at the property. 

Nightingale says there is known groundwater contamination in the area – known as a plume – and the agency worked to confirm no residents were using wells for water.

Along with air testing, the EPA is performing remediation work at the original site. And they’ll be checking current vapor barriers to ensure everything’s working properly. 

The EPA holds weekly Tuesday office hours this month at the LINC co-working office, 1167 Madison Ave. SE, across the street from 4 to 7 p.m.

The agency says residents can also stop by the work site to speak with officials or ask questions during the process.

You can additionally learn more at the EPA's webpage on the project.

Hilary is a General Assignment and Enterprise reporter for WGVU Public Media. She joined WGVU in September 2014 after several years of experience as a local news reporter, anchor and photojournalist in Midland, Saginaw and Bay counties. She's also worked as a financial and business reporter and audio field producer.
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