Traces of cleaning solvents found in Pawnee County water wells

Saturday, November 5th 2005, 12:04 pm
By: News On 6

TERLTON, Okla. (AP) _ Investigators have found traces of a cleaning solvent in water wells in rural Pawnee County that was spilled when barrels of chemicals broke open during a burglary.

Environmental tests are being conducted after small amounts of dichlorobenzene were discovered in local water wells. One well contained up to 14 times more dichloroethene than is considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Department of Environmental Quality agents initially investigated in July when thieves stole a trailer owned by Black Star Performance Engineering, an auto repair and paint shop. Thieves shoved up to 30 barrels of chemicals from the trailer, breaking open four 55-gallon drums that dumped cleaning solvents.

``You're not going to immediately die from drinking it, but we think it has the potential for health effects,'' DEQ spokeswoman Monty Elder said, referring to the dichloroethene. ``We do not know the extent ... of this problem.''

Investigators are uncertain whether the dichloroethene came from Black Star Performance Engineering. After the spill, DEQ employees told Black Star to clean up the area, but the company didn't comply, Elder said. She said Black Star, which couldn't be reached for comment, could be fined.

The department on Thursday found another chemical spill that was caused when thieves stole a car on Black Star's lot and tipped over two barrels containing chemicals.

Elder said investigators are testing soil and water to determine whether the Black Star area should become a Superfund site, a process that may take months.

Bill Everitt who lives about 250 feet from Black Star and whose well is contaminated, said his family now carries drinking water from his son's house across the street.

``We were devastated,'' he said. ``We don't know how long it's been contaminated and we don't know what's going to happen to us long-term.''

Pawnee Rural Water District No. 2 water operator Jon Harrod said the family's new water service will be turned on Tuesday.

To become a Superfund site, an area must have hazardous chemicals, a pathway for exposure by land, water or air and a population to be exposed, Elder said.

The largest Superfund site in the United States is Tar Creek, also in northeast Oklahoma.