A toxic solvent that prompted the closure of drinking water wells along Peach Orchard Road originated from at least four dry-cleaning establishments, according to Georgia's Environmental Protection Division.
The solvent - called tetrachloroethylene, or PCE - was detected in November 1999 in six of the 14 Augusta Utilities Department wells in the Peach Orchard Road area. Those six wells have since been shut down.
One well yielded concentrations of PCE as high as 9.8 parts per billion, exceeding the federal standard of 5 parts per billion. However, ground water samples nearby yielded levels as high as 7,300 parts per billion.
The solvent, a suspected carcinogen that causes liver and kidney damage, was present in raw water but not detected in "finished" water piped to residents for consumption, Augusta Utilities Director Max Hicks said.
Roger Carter, the assistant chief of the EPD's Geologic Survey Branch, said a yearlong investigation identified four dry-cleaning establishments in the Peach Orchard Road area that are believed to be the source of the PCE.
Those businesses are K&D Dry Cleaners, the site of a demolished building that once housed Holiday Cleaners, One-Hour Cleanerizing and a building previously occupied by Taylor's Drycleaning, he said.
"We were able to contour very high levels of PCE in ground water," Mr. Carter said. "Some of them well exceed 1,000 parts per billion, and the maximum allowed is 5."
The highest levels present in ground water at the water table was 7,300 parts per billion, he said.
A fifth business was found to have released another toxic material - naphthalene - that found its way into ground water, Mr. Carter said.
Because of the extent of contamination, the case has been passed to the EPD's Hazardous Waste Management Section, which will include the area on Georgia's Hazardous Sites Inventory List, the state equivalent to Superfund.
The largest plume of contamination - adjacent to K&D Cleaners - ranges from 12 to 30 feet deep and covers an area 1,000 feet long and 700 feet wide, Mr. Carter said.
The contamination's spread into shallow ground water illustrates the vulnerability of south Richmond County's shallow aquifer, said Onder Serefli, the manager of the EPD's Drinking Water Permitting and Engineering Program.
The EPD has urged Augusta to plan its future water supply facilities with greater reliance on surface water from the Savannah River and less dependence on ground water.
Currently, Augusta gets 26 million gallons of drinking water a day from the Augusta Canal and 10 million gallons from well fields, Mr. Hicks said.
Although Augusta is planning several new wells in south Richmond County, the long-range plan is to withdraw an additional 30 million gallons a day from the canal and Savannah River to eliminate future dependency on wells.
Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or email@example.com.