Ravenswood is still a Superfund Site but not for much longer

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
Clear water runs from the kitchen tap at this time.

RAVENSWOOD The water supply in Ravenswood has a murky history. In 1989, a chemical called perchloroethylene, or PCE for short, contaminated three of the City's wells. The chemical is often found in dry cleaners and is considered by the EPA as a "potential carcinogen." 

Since 1998, the EPA has addressed the PCE contamination, which means that extensive research and money has been poured into treating the water.

There are thousands of  Superfund sites across the U.S. The EPA defines these areas as "contamination sites" that have "hazardous waste being dumped, left out in the open, or otherwise improperly managed."

Cleanup efforts in Ravenswood have taken place on the federal, state and local levels. The EPA's website says that cleanup in Ravenswood is "ongoing," but a Preliminary Close Out Report was issued in 2018, and a five-year review of the site's status will happen in 2023. 

Hesitant resident 

Mike McCann has lived in Ravenswood his whole life. He was exposed to PCE for 30 years. When he learned that Ravenswood was a Superfund Site years ago, he switched over to distilled water from the store — that's still his drinking water supply today.

McCann, a former City Council member, said that he's had young cats get sick suddenly. He said multiple were diagnosed with "strange" illnesses like jaw cancer. 

He said the vets he's seen have said the animals must have been exposed to something to cause the cancers. His animals have been drinking distilled water bought from the store ever since. He doesn't trust the water. 

Growing up, he said cancer occupied every house on his street. Now, he said, he doesn't see it as much, but that hasn't changed his mind. He said he likes to stock up on drinking water because sometimes when he goes to the store, they're sold out. 

What happened between 1989 and 2018?

The contaminated water site that was identified in 1989 stretches from the intersection of Broadway and Walnut Street to the water plant. Since then, "air sparging" equipment was installed and helps to aerate the water and lower the PCE levels, according to the EPA's website. 

There isn't any documentation on the EPA's website that shows if anything was done to address the site from 1989 to 1997. When asked why nothing was done to address the water contamination for almost a decade, David Sternberg, an EPA representative, said the following via email.

"Starting in 1998 several water sampling events consistently showed PCE concentrations exceeding the standard of 5 μg/L. In December 1998, the City began pumping a municipal well (Well 3) to the wastewater treatment plant in an effort to protect the remaining municipal wells from contamination. After the well began pumping continuously to the wastewater plant, the contamination level diminished."

The EPA installed four monitoring wells in 1999 to "further investigate the extent of contamination." After that, the EPA collected 55 soil samples and seven more monitoring wells went into Ravenswood. 

Ravenswood installed an air-stripper in 2000 to "treat the contaminated water from two of the three wells where PCE was detected." The water that was treated was "blended with water from the other three municipal wells." After the water was blended, it was tested. 

The EPA's Removal Program installed two production wells and accompanying water lines in 2004. In September of that year, Ravenswood was added to the program's National Priorities List for cleanup, according to the EPA's website. 

The priority cleanup involved two measures: addressing the PCE in the groundwater and potential vapor intrusion — when chemicals move into or in the air around a building — around the site. 

According to the EPA's Explanation of Significant Differences report, up to 370 micrograms per liter of PCE was reported at a well in Ravenswood in 2008. The EPA allows no more than five micrograms per liter of PCE, also known as tetrachloroethylene, in drinking water.

In 2009, the EPA reported that a treatability study was "successful in removing PCE contamination from the groundwater ..."

The same monitoring well was measured for PCE again in 2010, and the numbers dropped to 96 micrograms per liter, which is more than 19 times the EPA's PCE limit. 

In 2011 the EPA proposed an updated cleanup plan, which was finalized after a public comment period. This plan included:

  • Continuation of the air sparging with soil vapor extraction system
  • Monitoring vapors
  • Installation of more air sparging with soil vapor extraction systems
  • Groundwater monitoring in contaminated area
  • Installing additional monitoring wells if needed
  • Contaminated well-head treatment
  • No production wells to be installed in the contaminated area

Contaminated soil was removed by the EPA in 2015.

The remedies for the groundwater vapor intrusion was determined effective in 2017 by "reducing the levels of PCE below that which would trigger EPA to take a response action."

In 2018, the EPA issued a Preliminary Close Out Report, which indicated that the site was remedied and "no further response is anticipated."

Sternberg said all of the Superfund cleanup projects and initiatives were paid for with federal funding and a 10% cost-share by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. 

What you need to know about PCE

PCE is listed as "likely to be carcinogenic to humans" by the EPA. Documented effects of long-term exposure to PCE may affect the following:

  • Kidneys, liver, immune system, hematologic system, development and reproduction
  • Bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma

When asked if the drinking water is within EPA regulations now, Sternberg said, "There have been no exceedances of the Federal maximum contaminant level of 5 micrograms per liter (μg/L) of Perchloroethylene (PCE) in the treated water provided by the City."

Ravenswood City Clerk Kim Benson said that the water is tested once a month and there haven't been any issues with PCE in about six years. 

She said the air stripper was taken out years ago, but the sparging wells will be in town "forever." 

Since taking office, Josh Miller, Ravenswood's mayor, said he hasn't had any concerns about drinking or using his tap water. 

— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.