Chemical contaminant found in water flowing from quarry

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(Host) A chemical contaminant used in blasting has been found in water flowing from a quarry operated by the Omya Corporation in Pittsford.

The chemical is perchlorate. Environmentalists say it’s been linked to a variety of health impacts.

But an Omya official says the chemical has not been detected off the company’s property, and that more research will be done.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The Omya plant in Pittsford produces calcium carbonate from marble mined from nearby quarries. The legislature two years ago ordered an environmental and health study of the Omya site.

Peter Zeeb is principal hydro geologist for Geosyntec Consultants, the Massachusetts company working on the study. His firm found perchlorate in surface water at two locations at Omya’s Hogback Quarry.

(Zeeb) "We collected several samples so we don’t have enough data to draw airtight conclusions about what the source is. But we have studied other blasting sites where perchlorate contamination in groundwater is connected to blasting, and the connection is perchlorate is used in explosives to enhance the performance of explosives."

(Dillon) The samples showed perchlorate at two levels: a high of 77 parts per billion at one spot, and a low of 7.9 parts per billion at another location.

Vermont has a health limit for perchlorate in drinking water of 4 parts per billion, while Massachusetts has set the level lower, at 2 part per billion.

The Omya samples were not in drinking water supplies, but in surface water that flows from the quarry.

But Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment says it’s still cause for concern.

(Smith) "Our concern has to do with the very low levels of perchlorate that have been found to disrupt the thyroid functions, especially in pregnant women and children."

(Dillon) Smith says this is the first time the chemical has been linked to quarry operations in Vermont, although it’s been found in many other states.

(Smith) "So we hope that the state of Vermont will now require testing routinely at quarries. Let’s find out if we have a problem or not. It’s common sense."

(Dillon) Jim Harrison is Omya’s vice president for environment and external affairs. He points out that the chemical so far has only been detected on the company’s property.

(Harrison) "We’ve got data at two locations and the consultants are taking that and are going back and do additional sampling, at which time we’ll know more."

(Dillon) State toxicologist Bill Bress says perchlorate dissolves easily. So he says it can move through groundwater and can contaminate wells.

(Bress) "It does have the potential to migrate through soil and to aquifers beneath there and that’s been demonstrated across the country."

(Dillon) Bress says perchlorate contamination is often associated with military bases since the chemical is a component of explosives and rocket fuel.

He says the consultants investigating the Omya site will now test groundwater and nearby wells.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

Editorial Note:

This story contains a correction to the health limit for perchlorate in the drinking water of Massachusetts. The level has been set to 2 part per billion.

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