New Mexico seeks to move on groundwater cleanup

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By RENE ROMO

LAS CRUCES, NM, Nov 14, 2000 (Albuquerque Journal)— The state Environment Department is asking city and Doña Ana County officials to sign onto a request for federal funds to investigate and clean up ground water contamination near the city's downtown.

As a precaution, city water officials took Well No. 18, designed to produce about 630 gallons a minute, out of service in September 1996 after high levels of a chlorinated solvent were found in samples.

The contamination and its spread have been assessed over the past three years by about 10 monitoring wells, said George Schuman, manager of the NMED Superfund Oversight Section.

But the state has not yet undertaken an investigation to determine the source of the contamination or to clean up the ground water and halt the spread of additional contamination, Schuman said.

Cleaning up the contamination, which extends from Griggs Avenue north past Hadley Avenue and from Interstate 25 west past Solano Drive, would "probably" cost between $10 million and $15 million, Schuman said.

State officials want to add the site to the Superfund National Priorities List, which would make it eligible for Superfund money to help pay for the cleanup.

State Environment Department officials were scheduled to discuss the project with the Do

Schuman stressed that residents are not in any danger of drinking contaminated water and said the city water system is in compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and with state Water Supply Regulations.

"But ground water is a precious resource in this state, and we certainly want to protect the other wells in the area," Schuman said.

The ground water is contaminated with perchloroethylene (PCE), a chlorinated solvent commonly used for dry cleaning fabrics and removing grease from metal, according to the Environment Department.

The federal maximum contaminant level for drinking-water supplies is 5 micrograms of PCE per liter. A water sample from Well No. 18 in January 1995 while the well was off-line showed levels of perchloroethylene at 32 micrograms per liter.

Follow-up samples from Well No. 18 showed PCE levels at less than 2 micrograms per liter, but as a precaution the well was shut off from service, said Gilbert Morales, director of Las Cruces' water resources.

© 1997 - 2000 Albuquerque Journal

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