Madison water utility administrators are considering a shutdown of an east side well because of opposing reports and an ongoing investigation into nearby contamination.
City Well No. 8 is a few blocks from Madison Kipp Corp., which used the contaminant tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, for decades until the late 1980s. PCE has never been found in the well water, but the Madison Water Utility is waiting for new test results to show the severity of the contamination nearby and how the groundwater flows to the well, general manager Tom Heikkinen said.
"The science will be our guide," Heikkinen said. "The water supply is safe, we're going to continue to make sure it's safe, and we're not going to put anyone at risk."
City administrators' groundwater concerns got the attention of neighbors, some of whom already have mitigation systems installed on their homes to keep harmful vapors out.
"I'm thinking, 'Are my kids at risk? Are they going to get sick?'" said Michelle Ayres, a mother of two who lives across the street from the Kipp site. "What's this going to do to our health, and how can we find a safer place to live?"
Ayres' home is one of the most recent to get a mitigation system, which includes a pipe that runs from her basement to the roof. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which is overseeing testing, found small amounts of PCE contamination under Ayres' home, she said.
The concerns come amid two conflicting reports and an ongoing class action lawsuit, which neighbors have filed and Kipp is trying to get a judge to throw out.
The neighbors' lawyers, with a Chicago law firm, on Tuesday provided WISC-TV with 67 pages of evidence it said was proof that pollutants poisoned the Atwood neighborhood. The group is suing Kipp on allegations that the company contaminated the ground and its water with chemicals it used until 1989.
Twenty years later, the DNR said there are "elevated" levels of the carcinogen PCE under several homes.
According to the law firm's key witness, Dr. Lorne G. Everette, samples taken in December had levels at least 340 times above the federal limit, more than three times what was reported when those neighbors filed the lawsuit four years ago.
In his deposition, the hydrogeologist said it was one of the most contaminated sites he's ever worked with.
But Kipp released its own 132-page report, which it's using as the basis for its PCE cleanup efforts. It shows a much smaller impact on the neighborhood.
"There's not a lick of evidence" in the neighbors' study, said Mark Meunier, Kipp's vice president of human services.
While the company awaits a new round of DNR testing, it will dig up five neighboring yards this spring where contaminants were found. As for the mitigation systems on some neighboring homes, the DNR installed them as a precaution and there's no health threat, Meunier said.
It could take a judge several months to sort through the thousands of documents from both sides and decide on the motion. For now, the case is set for an August trial in a Dane County federal courtroom.
The city's Water Utility will have a few months to decide whether to run its Well No. 8 this summer.
The pump ran only 45 days a year ago and is a good backup for the city in the event of a drought during peak-demand months, Heikkinen said.
"We can (decide not to) put it into service and run a slightly higher risk of having to issue water restrictions during an emergency," he said.