9 Investigates: Officials continue testing after chemicals move through soil

by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

Officials with North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources say chemicals contaminating West Charlotte groundwater have moved up through the soil's gases.

They want to test crawlspaces at homes Willow Street to see if the chemicals, which include PCE and TCE, could be contaminating air within the homes.

PCE is a manufactured chemical used for dry cleaning and metal degreasing.

Officials do not know who dumped the chemicals, or when. While they have contaminated the groundwater along the west end of Willow Street, the drinking water in the neighborhood is supplied by the city and safe.

"I was worried," Johnetta Cathcart said about the letter she received this week from NCDENR about the need for additional testing.

NCDENR officials found levels over the limits or approaching the limits at four sites, including Cathcart's home.

They want to test air in crawlspaces from her home, the three others, and another home where they didn't get permission to test the soil.

"It's kind of scary," she said. "I want to know what's really going on. You know, how much we are at risk."

Dr. Larry Raymond, a member of the occupational medicine faculty with Carolinas Healthcare System, said extremely high levels of the chemicals could lead to headaches, nausea or liver and kidney damage.

But even lower levels could be harmful over time.

"I'd be more concerned about subtle neurologic effects happening as a result of decades of exposure," he said. "That might include Parkinson's disease."

State investigations of this nature can be expensive.

The soil vapor tests cost about $35,000 and NCDENR hydrogeologist David Ramey said the air tests will likely cost $10,000.

Ramey hopes to do those tests in January and said residents shouldn't worry right now.

"Don't panic," he said. "We have more data to collect."

Ramey said just because there are high levels in the soil, the chemicals may not get into homes at all or get in at extremely low levels that may not be harmful.

He said if the levels are found to be high and detrimental to people's health, NCDENR would install plastic lining to block chemicals from moving from the soil into homes or install ventilation systems.