State investigating chemicals levels at NoDa apartment site - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

State investigating chemicals levels at NoDa apartment site

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

A state investigation into dry cleaning contamination has officials checking the levels of chemicals near a NoDa apartment building.

The NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources says three chemicals… chloroform, Freon, and PERC  - a dry cleaning chemical -- have been found in the soil gas and the ground water underneath the Highland Mill Loft Apartments.

The Highland Mill Loft Apartments are located near a former dry cleaning business in the old Highland Mill on North Davidson Street.

State environmental officials believe the contamination is linked to the former dry cleaning, which closed in 1999.

State officials say soil samples were first taken around Highland Mills Loft Apartments in October 2012 as part of the initial investigation of dry cleaning contamination. The results showed additional testing needed to be done, so more soil samples were taken four months later in February.
 
Residents recently received a letter from state officials saying testing showed "unacceptable levels" of a dry cleaning chemical known as PERC in the building where the dry cleaning business used to be. It's now NoDa Animal Hospital.

Dr Oona Gayle owns NoDa Animal Hospital. She says she rented the building two years ago. Dr. Gayle and her assistant say they had no idea it was contaminated.

"This is where we spend 99% of the day - is here at this hospital" says Pamela Wherry. "To think we are breathing in contaminated air... I'm besides myself."

Dr. Gayle says the discovery is "added stress because I can't move. Everything you see here is my life."

Dr Gayle says the elevated levels of the dry cleaning chemical forced her to get tested on Monday. Her assistant will be tested on Wednesday.

Officials say health risks vary based on the type of chemicals, and the levels of the chemical found.

Health problems could be temporary eye and respiration irritation, headaches or nausea that should go away once the contamination has been addressed. They say worst case scenario is a lifetime risk of cancer or chronic disease because of low level exposure over a number of years.

Wherry says "I want to know if I have those contaminants."

They're wondering why they weren't told the building was contaminated.

"I think it's something I should have known" says Dr Gayle. "That would have definitely helped me with my decision on whether to open here or continue looking for another location."

"The fact we didn't know and we could have known is upsetting" says Wherry.

In the meantime, the two say they have no choice but to keep coming to work in the building.

"I don't like it. I don't like it one bit" says Wherry. "No choice. This is where I work."

State officials say they're installing a mitigation system to draw vapors out from under the building.

They also found the chemicals underneath sections of the apartment complex.

News of the contamination is getting mixed reaction from residents who live on the complex.

Brittany Adams, who moved in a year ago, says "I'm not too worried about it. They say the water wasn't contaminated and that's something that would directly affect us."

The state says residents at Highland Mill receive drinking water from the municipal water supply.

But Marilynne Speed, living at Highland Mill for four years, says "my concern is it has never been disclosed to residents  - potential residents – or anything until now."

Now the state is looking to get permission from some residents to do indoor sampling in some apartments later this month to see if the chemicals have spread, and if they're affecting the air quality inside apartments.

Resident, Marilynne Speed, says she volunteered her apartment for testing because she concerned that health officials say "low levels  chemical exposure over many years may raise the lifetime risk of cancer or chronic disease. That's a huge concern."

But Brittany Adams says she's not too worried.

"It doesn't bother me. This place is older anyway. So those types of things are expected in a sense" says Adams.
 
State officials say the indoor testing is scheduled to begin late July.

Residents are expected to get the results in September.

The NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources says there are about 2,000 active and abandoned dry cleaning sites in North Carolina, and as many as 1,500 could be contaminated.

In 1997 the legislature passed a law to address dry cleaning contamination.

State officials say they do inspections at facilities.

They say contamination happens because of faulty machinery, or practices that cause the chemical known as PERC to sink through the cement floor and work its way into ground water. Vapors then travel upward through soil particles.

 A dry cleaner that's in business now is not automatically contaminating the area. State officials say contamination could have happened in the past and spread.

Click here to view a map of sites that have been recorded as part of the Dry-cleaning Solvent Cleanup Act Program.

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