A plume of contamination around a former metal aircraft manufacturing site in north St. Louis County has spread to an area wider than anticipated, but officials are doing what they can to remedy it, Environmental Protection Agency representatives said at a public meeting Thursday night.
Residents remain concerned about unknown health effects and property value decreases.
“You gotta live it, breathe it, or move,” said resident Noreen Jackson, 60, whose home has not been tested but is near the site.
In recent months, soil and indoor air testing was conducted at several homes in the unincorporated Elmwood Park neighborhood, near the former Missouri Metals plant site at 9970 Page Avenue in Overland. A total of 38 homes have been sampled. Recent groundwater testing shows contamination exists a little farther south along Meeks Boulevard and east of Elmridge Place than anticipated.
PerkinElmer Inc. of Waltham, Mass., owns the site, and agreed last year to test the area and clean it up.
PerkinElmer hasn’t operated a business at the site since 2001, but maintains responsibility for the cleanup.
Government regulators have known for at least 20 years about contamination at the site. But the risks involved with vapors seeping into neighborhood homes has come into focus in recent years, when a review said that prolonged exposure to the chemical of concern, trichloroethylene, could cause cancer if someone is exposed to high enough concentrations for a prolonged period of time.
The chemical, a solvent also known as TCE, was defined in the same study as being linked to health hazards other than cancer.
The EPA established new screening levels in early 2012, so regulators re-examined the risk to Elmwood Park residents. Testing for chemical vapors inside some homes revealed TCE “levels of concern” in five of them. The most recent testing revealed a sixth home with concerns. PerkinElmer installed systems in each of the homes to get rid of the vapors.
Mikerlange Altidor, 35, who is awaiting test results on his home, wondered why somebody hadn’t bought out the neighborhood or somehow compensated residents financially. He said a neighbor’s home bought for $89,000 at least 10 years ago recently sold for $36,000. “At the end of the day, nobody wants to pay us money that we lost,” he said.
David Hoefer, an attorney with the EPA, said nobody was contemplating a buyout. “We expect the contamination to be readily taken care of,” he said.
At least three civil lawsuits linked to the contamination are pending against the company.