The remedial operations at the Tutu Wells Superfund Site on St. Thomas will be transferred from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency control to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the EPA announced Monday. The transfer takes place Tuesday.
Caroline Kwan, EPA’s remedial manager, said Monday that the work to clean up the Tutu aquifer has been effective.”
Jim Casey, EPA coordinator in the Virgin Islands, said he can’t say whether there will be any contamination left when the cleanup is over. But he said the “natural processes” in the aquifer will continue to degrade the contamination and help reduce whatever is left.
The contamination has two plumes. Kwan said the northern one runs from the Education Department’s Curriculum Center to the EXXON gas station. The southern one is located in the Fort Mylner area.
Kwan said the southern area is about 95 percent cleaned up but the northern one only is about 50 percent free of contaminants.
“That aquifer is deep and very hard to reach,” Kwan said.
DPNR did not respond to requests for comment, with spokesman Jamal Nielsen indicating that Commissioner Alicia Barnes would be the likely person to respond.
EPA began the remedial project nine years ago. The project includes monitoring of 22 wells in the Tutu area.
Kwan said that, according to law, EPA must turn over Superfund projects to state or territorial governments in 10 years. However, she said that EPA negotiated the early handover with the territory’s Justice Department.
EXXON, which operated as Esso when the problem began, as well as Texaco will continue with their own remedial work, Kwan said.
Kwan said it cost EPA more $5 million to construct and operate the cleanup.
She said that EPA will continue to monitor efforts by DPNR and the two gas stations. A review is required every five years, with the next one occurring in April 2014.
The saga of the Tutu Wells Superfund Site began to unfold in 1987 when a strong petroleum odor started coming from the Tillett Well, a public water supply for the area that drew on the Tutu aquifer.
Subsequently, the investigation showed that volatile organic compounds had contaminated several public, institutional, commercial and private wells. Water from some of these wells was transported to other parts of the island. In 1987, Planning shut down Tillett Well, three private wells and 13 commercial wells.
In 1987 two potentially responsible parties in the Tutu area, Texaco Service Station and Esso Car Care Center, were ordered to investigate the impact that the release of petroleum from their underground storage tanks and their volatile organic compounds had had on the surrounding environment.
The EPA subsequently identified two auto repair stations, a dry cleaner and a government maintenance center as other possible polluters.
These operations contained various possible sources of contamination such as petroleum and waste oil underground storage tanks, drum storage areas, contaminated catch basins, oil separators, floor drains, a sump holding tank, a leaching pit, above-ground storage tanks and an evaporation pit. These operations also involved various toxic materials, including solvent-based auto flushes, dry cleaning fluids and dye strippers.
In March 1990, the EPA told Esso, Texaco and the O’Henry dry cleaner to take over the monitoring program and to provide trucked water to additional residences affected by contamination in groundwater. In October 2005, EPA took over the responsibility of providing trucked water to the affected residences.
In May 1998, EPA told Texaco, Esso, O’Henry Cleaners and the owners of the property, Cyril V. Francois Associates, Four Winds Shopping Center and the Western Auto Supply Company to perform soil cleanup at their facilities. Additionally, Esso and Texaco were told to start groundwater cleanup.
While information continues to surface that a laundromat and car wash in the Tutu area are drawing on the contaminated aquifer, Kwan said that it’s up to DPNR to deal with that situation because any one who uses a public water supply needs a permit from Planning. However, she said EPA was told that the two businesses are using water from the V.I. Water and Power Authority potable water line.
“We do advise people not to use the water,” Kwan said of the water from the aquifer.