PERU, Ind. — Neighbors around a more than century-old Peru building are worried previously-unknown cancer-causing chemicals have been seeping into their homes and air for years now.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is investigating 12 homes in the area for the presence of trichloroethylene (TCE) vapors inside the homes.

TCE was discovered underneath the old Square D production plant. It is now owned by Schneider Electric. Schneider started testing the old factory for the potential of environmental issues in February 2022. During that testing, the company found the TCE.

“It’s a cleaning agent usually used in industrial sights, so cleaning machinery,” said Gabriel Filippelli, an IUPUI Professor of Earth Sciences. “It’s very effective at that.”

Filippelli said if disposed of improperly TCE can move with the groundwater and turn into a vapor, escaping the ground and into the world above. 

“If it is underneath people’s homes it can get concentrated in people’s homes and that’s when it gets dangerous,” he said.

The National Cancer Institute said prolonged exposure to TCE can cause cancer. 

IDEM said residents whose homes will be tested were notified earlier this month.

Rachel Staller lives just across the train tracks from the old factory

“I just want a home to raise my family in,” Staller said.

The Square D production plant has always been close to Staller’s heart.

“My father and mother both worked there. My father worked there for 37 years and retired from there,” Staller said.

Now, Staller is researching if chemicals used in the plant could be endangering her family.

“Doing research on those chemicals, very scary, considering I have a child on a vent with chronic respiratory failure, not to mention those of us who live here with my daughter,” Staller said.

Now Staller is worried about what her and her kids might have been breathing in during their time near the plant.

“We don’t know what the three years of being here has done, we don’t know what the levels are here,” Staller said.

Staller said she doesn’t know when hers will be tested but she wants to move regardless of the results. 

City Councilor Kathleen Plothow said she’s working to help those impacted.

“I get a little bit emotional about it because these are good people,” Plothow said.

She and other councilors are working to form a committee to look out for the best interests of those impacted.

“The whole city, the whole town all of us want answers,” Staller said. “Just what is going on.”

IDEM said if a building does have elevated levels of TCE, Schneider Electric will have to pay for and install a mitigation system.