Battling groundwater contamination in South Lake Tahoe
The clean up of contaminated groundwater in South Lake Tahoe dating back to the 1970s from a leaky laundromat at the South Y Center remains uncompleted — but a recent order from a local water board is calling for additional study and remedial work by the responsible parties.
On May 12, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board issued an order to four corporations that are accountable for the clean up of groundwater contaminated with tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, at levels above what is legally allowed for drinking by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Seven drinking water wells spanning two water systems are currently compromised by high PCE levels, which can lead to health problems, including a higher risk of cancer after long-term exposure.
Lake Tahoe Laundry Works, which operated from the 1970s until 2011 at 1024 Lake Tahoe Blvd., spilled the PCE over time during deliveries of the chemical to its coin-operated dry cleaning unit that was in use from 1972 to 1979.
PCE is generally associated with dry cleaning, but can also be used for metal degreasing and is an ingredient in paint strippers.
The parties responsible for the cleanup include current property owner Seven Springs Limited Partnership; past landowner Connolly Development, Inc.; Fox Capital Management Corporation, a general partner of a former landowner; and Bobby Pages, Inc., who operated the dry cleaning unit at the site.
Seven Springs and Fox conducted an investigation into the site from 2003 to 2008, and in 2010 began remedial work through an air sparge and soil vapor extraction system. However, staff at the Lahontan Water Board assert that the PCE plume emanating from the site has never been fully defined, and it is unknown if the contamination is solely from the Laundry Works site or if there are other responsible parties.
“Protecting Lake Tahoe’s pristine drinking water supplies is a top priority for the Lahontan Water Board,” said Lahontan executive director Patty Kouyoumdjian. “So understanding the full extent of this PCE plume is a big step in making sure this chemical doesn’t contaminate more drinking water sources, and that cleanup is done in a timely manner by the responsible parties.”
The order issued to the parties calls for a comprehensive investigation into the full-extent of the PCE groundwater contamination and a cleaning of its effects. The responsible parties must come forward to the water board with a workplan for investigating the extent of PCE in groundwater within 75 days of the order’s issuance. When accepted, the parties will have 30 days to implement the plan.
According to the water board, it is possible that there are other parties responsible for portions of the PCE, and further investigation is needed. Additionally, the current extraction system is not completely controlling lateral or vertical movement of the contaminant in the groundwater table.
“We are pleased to see that the Cleanup and Abatement Order issued by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board now recognizes that there is insufficient evidence to attribute the regional PCE plume in the South Lake Tahoe area solely to the former drycleaner,” said Scott Reisch, the attorney representing Fox, in an email.
“Fox welcomes the Regional Board’s desire to identify all of the contributing sources to the contamination, and to ask all responsible parties to address the associated environmental concern.”
The other responsible parties could not be reached for comment.