Volatile organic compounds and ground water supplies should not mix.
And yet, for approximately 50 years, residents housed within a nearly 5-mile spread of land stretching from Auburn to Union Springs have lived with ground water supplies tainted by hazardous, potentially carcinogenic substances.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the contaminants can be traced back to Auburn's former Powerex facility, where General Electric built a range of electrical components — including radar equipment and high-voltage semi-conductors — from 1951 to 1990.
However, the EPA said the damage was likely wreaked between 1959 and 1967, when manufacturers disposed of trichloroethene (TCE) by placing the industrial solvent into unlined containment ponds. The solvent eventually leaked out of the pond, leeching into ground water supplies in sections of Auburn, Aurelius, Fleming, Springport and Union Springs.
The volatile organic compounds were discovered in 1988 when the state's Department of Health conducted routine testing of Union Springs' drinking water supply.
And after many years of negotiating with both GE and Cayuga County residents, the EPA announced it recently finalized a $20 million plan to clean up the contaminated site.
In a statement released Monday, the agency said it divided the contaminated area into three different sites, which it plans to clean through a mix of bioremediation — adding chemicals and "biological enhancements" to the ground water to break down TCE — and natural processes.
The EPA said the cost of the cleanup will be passed on to "those responsible for the contamination at the site," something the agency said was an important part of the healing process. In September, the EPA said GE agreed to take over remedial efforts and foot the bill associated with removing TCE from effected ground water supplies.
As the contaminated sites inch closer to health, the long legal battle surrounding the GE/Powerex contamination saga has also come to a close.
Last month, the attorney representing the 88 Aurelius and Fleming residents who sued GE in 2001 announced that the two parties had finally reached an agreement that settled the 12-year-long lawsuit. However, because the two parties settled on a confidential agreement, the terms of the settlement must stay secret.