The Environmental Protection Agency is set to install six groundwater monitoring wells to investigate the contaminated water plume beneath much of Kokomo, marking the first major development since it was named one of the federal government’s top cleanup priorities.

The 294-acre groundwater plume was placed on the EPA’s Superfund national program list in 2015 after tests revealed it was contaminated with arsenic and vinyl chloride, a manufactured chemical used in the production of plastic products and packaging materials. The plume also contains chlorinated solvents, which are chemicals widely used for dry cleaning and to clean machinery and electronic parts.

The water plume provides around 55,000 residents with drinking water, which is cleaned and purified by Indiana American Water before reaching residents.

Since the site was added to the Superfund program, EPA officials have investigated the extent and source of the contamination, including at least 14 facilities within the city that handle solvents containing vinyl chloride. But in five years, there have been no conclusive findings.

Now, the agency is taking its first major step to determine the scope and source of the pollution by installing six groundwater monitoring wells to determine how far down the contamination goes.

The EPA said one set of wells will be installed near the Indiana American Water facility on Sycamore Street, and the other set will be located near the intersection of Markland Avenue and Elizabeth Street.

Drinking Water

The upflow filters at Indiana American Water remove nuisance minerals like iron from the water that cause discoloration. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune

The wells will assist the EPA in determining the depth where contaminated groundwater is moving, and help investigators scope out the construction of other wells that will be placed around the city next year, the agency said in an email.

The wells will also help the EPA track the contamination back to its source. The EPA had said that if officials could identify the culprit of the contamination, the government would have asked the responsible party to pay for the study and cleanup.

“Because we don’t yet know the extent of the plume or the source, it may take several years for EPA to fully understand everything that’s going on in the subsurface,” the agency said in an email. “However, as data comes in, EPA will be alert for opportunities to take interim response actions if we find that it would be beneficial.”

However, the EPA said it anticipates that it will take multiple cycles of well installation and sampling before investigators are able to trace the contamination back to the source.

The wells will also help the agency gather the data necessary to evaluate and determine the best way to clean up the tainted plume. The EPA said in 2015 that there were several cleanup options, including pumping the contaminated water out of the ground and cleaning it in an above-ground treatment system.

Other options would be using biological or chemical means to treat the groundwater while it’s still under ground to destroy the pollutants, or simply monitoring the contaminant levels over time, since vinyl chloride will eventually break down and dissipate.

Once the remedial investigation is complete, the EPA said it would develop cleanup alternatives and present them to the community for input.

Although the groundwater plume is tainted and affects several of the city’s wells, officials with Indiana American Water say people shouldn’t be concerned about consuming or using the water. The utility’s water treatment facility treats all the water that is pulled from the polluted plume to ensure it’s free from vinyl chloride or any other contaminant that might be there.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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Carson Gerber is a reporter for the Kokomo Tribune and can be reached at 765-854-6739, or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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