Toxic Groundwater Spreading

Plume May Threaten Valley's Future Supply

In Phoenix Ariz., a plume of toxic chemicals in the groundwater under the airport, ballpark and central Phoenix neighborhoods has been spreading west hundreds of feet per year, despite attempts over two decades to contain it, The Arizona Republic reported.

Officials worry about the plume and others from industrial or commercial pollution across the Valley, because an extended drought could make clean groundwater crucial to meeting future water needs.

According to Donn Stoltzfus, environmental program specialist for Phoenix, "The projections are that Phoenix will use more and more groundwater. It is not a matter that we can leave these areas contaminated and go somewhere else. We are running out of somewhere else to go."

A dozen of wells across the Valley have been closed because of the contamination, which includes possibly cancer-causing chemicals in some areas. Phoenix alone has closed 42 wells and mostly restricts its pumping to areas north of the Arizona Canal.

Currently, only 4 to 5 percent of the city's water supply comes from city wells, but Phoenix officials expect that to change if the drought continues.

Although the city doesn't pump from central areas of the city, where pollution is most concentrated, those areas have deep aquifers and could become important for Phoenix to use in 10 to 20 years, reported The Arizona Republic.

Steve Rossi, Phoenix's principal water resources planner said, "Over time, there is likely to be a need to consider using those." According to him, the city has been communicating with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality about "the need to accelerate the cleanup efforts of the well fields to meet our long-term plans, especially during droughts."

Two major lawsuits were filed in July against corporations accused of stalling the cleanup of sites with groundwater contamination. Honeywell International Inc. faces more than $150 million in civil penalties involving allegations that it hid or misrepresented information about pollution at its facility at 34th Street and Air Lane, which is part of the Motorola 52nd Street Superfund site. The state Attorney General's Office sued the company on July 9 on behalf of ADEQ. Unidynamics-Phoenix Inc. and its parent company, Crane Co., were sued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on July 8 for not following cleanup plans at a former defense site near the Phoenix-Goodyear Airport, according to The Arizona Republic.

There are seven federal and 20 state Superfund sites in the Phoenix area and numerous other sites damaged by pollution from defense contractors and chipmakers, dry cleaners, gas stations and agriculture. ADEQ Director Steve Owens said the amount of polluted groundwater is a sizable portion of the groundwater in Maricopa County.

The Arizona Republic

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