Chemical Leak at Fairlington Dry Cleaners Prompts Neighborhood Worries

by Alex Koma July 9, 2018 at 1:45 pm 0

A long-term chemical leak at a dry cleaning business near Fairlington has caused an odor in some homes — and concerns among residents about their health.

State environmental regulators are wrapping up their review of the spill from Fairlington Cleaners, located in a low-slung shopping center at 1712 Fern Street in Alexandria. According to documents, toxic chemicals leaked from the business into the area’s soil and groundwater, which has affected homes across the Arlington border in Fairlington.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality has spent years working with TBR Associates, the owner of the Fairlington Shopping Center along N. Quaker Lane, to evaluate conditions at the business. With a final report in hand, they’re planning a meeting tonight (Monday) to discuss their findings at 7 p.m. at the Fairlington Community Center (3308 S. Stafford Street).

Previous managers of the cleaners used equipment that regularly leaked fluid containing tetrachloroethene, a chemical commonly used in dry cleaning that’s linked to a variety of adverse health impacts, prompting concerns among residents of the nearby Fairlington Glen and Fairlington Meadows condo communities.

The DEQ ultimately determined that most people living in the area weren’t facing any serious health risks, after testing about 50 homes in those neighborhoods. Though the chemical has impacted the area’s groundwater, the homes are hooked up to municipal water lines, meaning the chemical would only impact people if its vapors wafted into the houses.

Regulators did find that five homes were contaminated with those vapors at potentially serious levels, and the shopping center’s owner installed fan systems to address the issue. However, a review of data collected from the homes by the state health department concluded that there is a “low or extremely low” risk of cancer for anyone breathing in the fumes and determined that the chemical does not pose a health hazard to the larger community.

In a letter to the Fairlington Glen and Meadows homeowners associations, the DEQ now says it’s ready to install four new, permanent groundwater monitoring wells in the area and set up some sort of “legally binding mechanism” to ensure the owner of the shopping center continues to test the area for any potential contamination from the chemicals.

Some neighbors, however, want to see regulators get considerably more aggressive in pressing TBR to do more. Glen residents Barbara Collier and Ellen McDermott have been distributing a flier arguing that “we still do not have an active picture of the plume or chemical levels under our homes,” according to a copy of the note provided to ARLnow.

They wrote that the state testing only “gives a snapshot in time” of the contaminants, and the chemicals could continue to spread, even though the DEQ argued in its report that TPR and its contractor, Engineering Consulting Services, have managed to stem the flow of the chemicals.

Collier and McDermott are also concerned that ECS hasn’t “used the best technologies” to review contamination in the area before submitting data to DEQ, arguing that their methods are “questionable.” They note that they’re suspicious of the contractor in general, considering that the DEQ cited the company back in 2006 for improperly disposing waste water as it tried to clean up chemicals at the dry cleaning site.

“This matter has dragged on for so long that by the time there is any ‘resolution,’ we also may be well past the statute of limitations for any legal action to fix the damage done,” Collier and McDermott wrote. “This meeting is the last chance to push the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to be more aggressive.”

DEQ spokesman Greg Bilyeu told ARLnow the agency has no timetable set for any follow-up actions following the meeting, but hopes to use the gathering as a way of “sharing more information, hearing from the community and answering questions right now.”

“Information gathered from the meeting and afterwards will be included in DEQ’s future considerations and actions,” Bilyeu wrote.

Photos 1 and 2 via Google Maps

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