PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is urging the EPA to take over efforts to clean up contaminated groundwater in west Phoenix. In doing so, the state agency is essentially arguing that the Motorola Superfund site that stretches from the Papago Buttes to downtown Phoenix, is actually much bigger.
In the most recent letter on the matter, dated June 24, ADEQ Waste Programs Division Director wrote, "Multiple lines of evidence in the existing documents and data support that the TCE plume originating from the M52 (old Motorola) facility...has migrated beyond the western boundary (of the Superfund site.)"
"What that ADEQ memo shows is that, yes indeed, this is a contiguous plume. It should’ve been part of the original Superfund site. And it needs to be incorporated as part of that Superfund site today," said Scott Meyer, who is the president of Don't Waste Arizona, an environmental group that has been involved in fighting for more testing and cleanup efforts over the past 30 years.
Meyer says this is more than just a matter of government jurisdiction or semantics. He believes that if the EPA brings the western boundary of the TCE plume into the Superfund designation, the move will speed cleanup efforts to the entire pollution plume.
TCE, which stands for Trichloroethylene, was an industrial solvent used in the making of microchips. It is linked to cancer and a list of other medical conditions.
TCE was used at the Motorola facility at 52nd Street and McDowell for decades, beginning in the 1950s. It is believed that plant employees disposed of the chemical by dumping it into a dried out well behind the facility.
"They were just doing what they were told to do in the early days with these chemicals," said Rene Chase-Dufault, whose parents owned a home that sat right next to the Motorola plant.
She says she would like the EPA to do additional testing for TCE vapor. Nearly 10 years ago, the agency tested homes and other buildings for fumes, and found that the compound was seeping up through the soil in vapor form in some areas.
Chase-Dufault says she also wants the EPA to try some new remediation techniques.
It is estimated that the Motorola facility is responsible for dumping as much as 116,000 gallons of TCE. At the current rate of clean-up, that could take thousands of years to complete.
"What we really need is the EPA in the state to pick it up. You know and really, really put this as a high priority," said Meyer.
In an email, a spokesperson for ADEQ said the request for EPA involvement is based on practicality, as much as anything else.
"Because the site’s groundwater is connected to and inseparable from the Motorola 52nd Street Superfund Site, ADEQ believes a combined solution may be more cost effective than separate solutions.
Plus, disagreement between potentially responsible and affected parties regarding a remedy and water rights may mean EPA’s joint and several liability approach will be faster than Arizona’s fairer, but in this case potentially slower, proportionate liability approach," wrote Erin Jordan, PhD, of ADEQ.