EPA Changes Cleanup Plan for Tutu Wellfield

The groundwater treatment plant at the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Education Curriculum Center in St. Thomas. (EPA photo)
The groundwater treatment plant at the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Education Curriculum Center in St. Thomas. (EPA photo)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a changed cleanup plan at the Tutu Wellfield Superfund Site on St. Thomas, Wednesday. There will be a public meeting Aug. 23.

Previous industrial and commercial activities at the site contaminated the soil and groundwater with chlorinated volatile organic compounds. According to the EPA, its proposed action expands and enhances the groundwater cleanup system that is currently operating at the site.

The Tutu Wells matter goes back to 1987 when, after receiving complaints about a strong odor emanating from wells in St. Thomas’s Tutu area, the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources asked the EPA to sample the wells. At the time, the wells were sources of public drinking water.

The EPA found the groundwater and, therefore, the drinking water wells in the Tutu area, were contaminated by an unsafe level of volatile organic chemicals — coming from a variety of sites. They determined the contamination may have existed for as long as 20 years before the problem was discovered. Multiple businesses were cited as potentially contributing to the problem, including L’Henri Inc., doing business as O’Henry Cleaners – a dry cleaning and laundry facility. LAGA Textile Co. and Panex Co., both clothing manufacturing firms, operated between 1969 and 1982 at one site of contamination. Texaco and Esso – the predecessor to Exxon – were also named in the 2001 consent decree. (See Related Links below)

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“EPA is moving forward to address contamination at this site against the backdrop of the continuing recovery of the U.S. Virgin Islands from Hurricanes Irma and Maria,” EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez said in Wednesday’s statement.

“Our proposal would expand the reach of and enhance the effectiveness of the existing groundwater pump and treat system to better capture and reach more sources of contamination in the groundwater, which ultimately means we are better protecting people’s health,” he said.

The one and a half square-mile site is in the Anna’s Retreat section of St. Thomas. In response to past releases of hazardous substances from area businesses, EPA required each responsible party to address soil contamination on their respective properties and the groundwater contamination that emanated from their operations. EPA also conducted a soil cleanup at the V.I. Department of Education Curriculum Center and constructed a system to pump and treat groundwater underneath the entire site, which began operation in 2004. The V.I. government is currently running this system.

EPA’s proposed cleanup plan would add more wells to pull out groundwater from more of the areas that are the source of contamination, which officials believe will make the system more effective. The cleanup proposal also includes re-injection of treated, clean groundwater to create an underground barrier downgradient of the source area. In addition, the proposal calls for long-term monitoring and restrictions on the use of groundwater in the vicinity of the site.

The EPA will hold a public meeting to explain the proposed cleanup and other options considered and to take public comments. The meeting will be 7 p.m. Aug. 23 at Grace Gospel Chapel, 148-320-321 & 322 Estate Anna’s Retreat, St. Thomas. Comments will be accepted until Sep. 7.

Written comments can be mailed or emailed to: Caroline Kwan, Remedial Project Manager

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 290 Broadway, N.Y., N.Y., 10007 or e-mail: [email protected] or 212-637-4275.

More information on the cleanup, including the EPA’s proposed plan, is online at www.epa.gov/superfund/tutu-wellfield.

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