The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating soil vapors in the Old North End in Burlington after elevated levels of chemicals were detected in a home.
In July, testing at a house on the northern part of Elmwood Avenue revealed two chemicals at levels above federal limits, according to Michael Nahmias, an environmental analyst for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. The department has not yet found the source, he added.
The chemicals are known as perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE). PCE and TCE are commonly used for dry cleaning and can also be found in cleaning products and grease removers. The neighborhood was formerly home to two dry-cleaning businesses.
Exposure can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness and irritation, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Longterm exposure to PCE can lead to changes in memory and mood, and potentially to cancer.
A home sale prompted the test that revealed the chemicals, Mahmias said. When state officials realized the chemicals could be present along several blocks, they called in the EPA for additional testing.
Federal investigatorsmeasured elevated levels of PCE and TCE in a block-long stretch of Elmwood Avenue, between Cedar and Lafountain streets. Now the EPA is testing for vapors around the Integrated Arts Academy at H.O. Wheeler and along sections of Spring and Archibald Streets, Intervale Avenue, Walnut Street and Lafountain Street. Nahmias said he didn't know yet what kind of risk the chemicals could pose.
Nahmias called the chemicals "common contaminants" and estimated that they have been detected at around a dozen sites in Burlington over the years. Already, he said, tests have shown the chemicals along the sewer main on Elmwood Avenue — which "could act as a conduit to carry the vapors" to other homes, he said.
The EPA will be taking soil and air samples throughout August, according to a press release from the agency. The EPA also plans to send out flyers to the neighborhood's residents.
The Vermont Department of Health, the Burlington School District, and the City of Burlington are assisting in the investigation.