A portion of south Richmond County contaminated by an industrial solvent has been proposed for inclusion on a list of the nation's most polluted areas.
The solvent - tetrachloroethylene, or PCE - was detected in 1999 in six of the city of Augusta's 14 drinking-water wells clustered in the Peach Orchard Road area.
The discovery prompted the closure of one well and an investigation by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, which advised the city to phase out the use of remaining wells in the area.
The division believes the contamination came from dry-cleaning businesses in the area that used PCE, a suspected carcinogen that can cause liver and kidney damage.
Although present in groundwater, it was not detected in the city's processed drinking water.
Tim Cash, the manager of EPD's Hazardous Sites Response Program, said studies several years ago focused on more than 20 current and former dry-cleaning establishments within three miles of the contaminated area.
"We narrowed those down to a handful of sites we think may have contributed to the groundwater contamination that is showing up in the city's well system," he said.
The EPD asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consider the area for inclusion on its National Priority List, which could make the site eligible for federal assistance for further studies and remediation.
The affected areas include five current or former businesses on the Georgia Superfund list of areas eligible for cleanup funds from a state remediation trust fund.
David Reuland, the coordinator of the EPD's Hazardous Sites Response Unit, identified them as Isdell's Used Car Lot, K&D Cleaners, One-Hour Cleanerizing, Paulos Cleaners and Taylor's Dry Cleaning, all of which are within a mile of the contaminated areas.
Carl Terry, a spokesman for the EPA's Region IV office in Atlanta, said federal authorities have not formally announced a plan to seek the designation but will do so this year. Once announced in Washington, a 60-day comment period will follow.
"Based on the comments that are received, a decision will be made later," he said. "Not all sites that are proposed actually end up on the NPL."
Currently, Georgia has 15 sites on the priority list. Augusta has no current sites, but a 75-acre Monsanto property that contained arsenic and other chemicals was on the list from 1984 until 1998, according to the EPA.
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