WRAL Investigates

Contaminated well water near Wake Forest was discovered in 2005

Posted September 14, 2012 8:37 p.m. EDT
Updated September 19, 2012 8:50 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources first knew about contamination in drinking water near Wake Forest seven years ago, a DENR spokeswoman said Friday.

Since then, the wells of at least 12 other homes in the area of Stony Hill Road, have tested positive for dangerous levels of TCE – a cancer-causing cleaning agent used to get rid of grease.

Cathy Akroyd, with the DENR's Division of Waste Management, said the state became aware of the substance in at least one well in 2005 – after a resident complained of a strange odor – but that did not demonstrate a widespread issue.

“We came out and sampled several wells in the area, and that one original well was the only one impacted," she said. "So, it was thought at that time that was pretty much the end of that story."

Since then, she said, DENR has been working through what she called a complicated legal process to narrow down who was responsible for releasing the chemical.

"It can be a very long and complicated process to identify and correctly confirm a responsible party," she said.

When the state went back to the area in recent months as part of its investigation, 21 other wells showed at least trace levels of TCE. At least 12 have dangerous levels.

Neighbors say they had no knowledge of the issue and that they were never notified about the potential risks.

Akroyd did not know immediately Friday evening whether the state ever reached out to residents or attempted to notify them of the issue.

"(People are) very concerned," Kenneth Rhame, with the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday. "It strikes some fear in some folks, especially not knowing how long they have been exposed (and) having children who have been drinking the water."

Rhame said the solvent is water-soluble and travels underground. Once water is contaminated, it's not an easy fix.

Recent tests show nearby Falls Lake, which is the water source for Raleigh and other cities and towns in Wake County, has not been contaminated by the TCE.

More tests are under way on wells in the area, and the EPA is helping effected residents get their water in other ways.