29 Years Of Contaminated Water And Counting...
Tylerville Residents Have Water Filters, But Groundwater Is Still Polluted
The state’s environmental ‘watch dog’ group, the Council on Environmental Quality is sending a letter to Governor Rell and to the Environmental and Public Health Commissioners saying the state is not acting quickly enough to clean up contaminated drinking water in Haddam. WNPR’s Nancy Cohen reports the state has been aware of the contamination for nearly 30 years.
Imagine owning a home knowing the groundwater that feeds your drinking water well is contaminated. That’s the case for as many as 19 homes in Tylerville, a neighborhood in Haddam. The state is providing these homes with filters to purify the water and in some cases with bottled water. But at least one family says that’s not enough.
At the bottom of Bob and Sharon Botelle’s driveway, off busy Route 82, you feel like you’ve stumbled into a bit of Eden.
“We have three peach trees and we have three apple trees,” said Sharon Botelle. “I put up peaches for the winter and make apple sauce”
But when Botelle cans her fruit or cooks dinner or even makes coffee for she won’t use the water from her tap.
“This is my kitchen,” said Botelle as she walked towards her sink. “And this is my water. I normally have some bottled water sitting here. It looks like my husband probably finished the bottle.”
The Botelles get bottled water paid for by the state. Along with water filters that filter all the water in the house.
“As you can see we have big blue filters that stand probably almost as tall. I’m 4’ 10”, so they’re probably my size. And this is what takes the toxins out of our water.”
But the filters are not enough to convince the Botelle’s to drink it.
The contaminants found in the Tylerville area include MTBE, a gasoline additive and a type of Dioxane, both of which can cause liver and kidney damage.
Back outside her house, Sharon Botelle points uphill to what she says is the alleged source of another contaminant, TCE, which can cause cancer.
“It’s on the other side of these trees. There was a factory here at one time, a printed circuit factory. They used a lot Trichloroethylene, also known as TCE. And that’s what we have in our groundwater here in Tylerville.”
But Jonathan Sibley, President of the Sibley Company which owned the former factory, says he strongly disagrees. Sibley declined to do a recorded interview for this story, but he says after the factory burned down in 1986 his company properly disposed of the chemicals offsite.
Patrick Bowe, Director of Remediation at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection said besides Sibley there are several gas stations, a former Department of Transportation facility and other places that all could be the source of the contaminants.
“We cannot rule out any particular site at this juncture with the information that we have,” said Bowe.
But Bowe said the state also has not ruled out Sibley.
“We know there is very likely contamination, to some degree, that comes from the Sibley site,” said Bowe. “But do I have evidence I could use in court for, example? No.”
Five years after getting money from the Bond Commission the D.E.P. is still only in the first phase of its investigation. The D.E.P. has also directed the Sibley Company to do its own review. But the company is behind schedule. It was supposed to have finished the study by March. Jonathan Sibley says he expects to be done by October or November.
“Why are some of the wells in Haddam contaminated?”
That’s a Channel 30 television anchor introducing a story about Tylerville that aired in August 2001. In the story, Bill Warzecha of the D.E.P. says the contamination should not be in the groundwater at all.
“Our goal is to find the responsible party or parties for the pollution and make them responsible both for the water supply issues and the pollution abatement issues.”
But today, nearly nine years after that broadcast, the D.E.P. has not yet held anyone responsible for the pollution in Tylerville. Patrick Bowe of the D.E.P. said the agency hasn’t decided yet if it will try to remove the complex flow of contaminants underground.
“It’s very hard go into an area that has contamination in a bedrock area and eliminate that to bring it back to say colonial time pristine clean,” said Bowe. “In many cases that’s simply not feasible. That may be true in Tylerville.”
In the meantime, Bowe said the state is protecting residents. Connecticut has spent $100,000 on bottled water and filters in Tylerville in the past 15 years.
“Insuring that every individual in that neighborhood is protected and protected at their tap so that no one has to drink contaminated water and no one is paying to have filters from their own pocket.”
Bob Botelle first learned he had TCE in his water in 1981.
In the 29 years since, the state, or for a few years the Sibley Company, under a D.E.P. order, has provided the Botelle’s and other families with filters and in some cases bottled water.
But Bob Botelle said even so there are things he’s concerned about.
“Our health. Would you drink water with a known carcinogen in it if you knew better? Would you buy property with that present? You’d go somewhere else wouldn’t you?”
Sharon Botelle said she isn’t sure the couple could sell their property. She says the D.E.P.’s water filters are a bandaid approach and the state still hasn’t done enough to find the source of the pollution.
“I’m tired of it. I’m tried of waiting and promises that we’re going to do this and do that and nothing happens,” said Botelle. “Nothing has changed. The person responsible needs to be held responsible for it. It's been going on for 30 years now, and it seems to me the D.E.P. should have done something by now!”
The Council On Environmental Quality seems to agree.
In its letter to the Governor the CEQ wrote “Thirty years, with more to come, is a long time to live atop highly-polluted groundwater.”
For WNPR, I’m Nancy Cohen.