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MARTINSVILLE, Ind. – There’s something in the water in Martinsville, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes it’s been there for years.

A recent study from Dr. Sa Liu, Assistant Professor at the Purdue University School of Health Science, confirmed a chemical known as PCE (perchloroethylene) infiltrated the city’s water supply along with private wells.

On Wednesday, researchers will join with members of the Martinsville Superfund Site Association in presenting the findings to the community.

What caused the problem? According to the EPA, it likely began decades ago.

The administration discovered a slow moving, underground mass of contaminated water known as a plume.

In the EPA’s Community Involvement Plan released in 2019, the administration claims the issue likely began with illegal chemical dumping at a dry cleaning company at the intersection of Pike St. and Mulberry St.

The company closed its doors in 1991.

According to the timeline provided by the Martinsville Superfund Site Association, the plume was discovered more than 10 years later. At that time, the chart shows PCE was found in a city well.

Utility commission timeline

In 2004, under EPA oversight, a removal plan was implemented.

In 2005, the city installed a carbon filtration system to remove PCE from drinking water.

In May of 2013, the EPA claimed the community remained at high risk. It listed the Pike-Mulberry plume as a Superfund Site. It was added to the National Priority List.

The administration submitted remediation recommendations in December of 2019 in addition the Community Involvement plan released in August. 

“To be on the national priority list, you have to have achieved a certain hazard rating, which indicates there is a public health hazard,”
explains Martinsville Superfund Site Association founder, Thomas Wallace. “The public health hazard here is based solely upon a contaminated public source of water.”

Wallace claims the plume is a minimum 38 acres, stretching out under downtown Martinsville.

He believes eradicating the issue could take a number of years and will be extensive. He added that the EPA could use five different systems to do so.

“One of the most extreme would be tearing buildings down and digging the dirt out.”

Wallace listed other options including bio-remediation, a process currently being tried on another Martinsville plume, referred to as O’Neal.

Researchers at Purdue began taking samples of the air and tap water in Mid January. Wallace shared the findings with CBS4.

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“Their tests all came back positive, and saw trace elements of PCE in their tap water in the kitchen, air in their house and we took a breath test as well to see the concentration within their system,” said Wallace.

While no evidence has definitively shown a link between the plume and health problems, Wallace believes it could be a contributing factor.

“We have one of the higher cancer rates in the state. We have some strange types of cancer,” he said. “We have several kids with thyroid cancer, it’s very similar to the thyroid cancer we’ve seen at other contamination sites.”

He will present the finding alongside Dr. Liu and Dr. Timothy Adams, a representative of Wilcox Engineering. The firm is currently handling remediation at the O’Neal plume site.

The representatives continue to ask for public input about the strategy moving forward.

Martinsville Mayor Kenneth Costin assures CBS4 the city’s water supply is still safe to drink because of the charcoal filtration.

The mayor also reinforced that his office  fully supports the Purdue University study, and he encourages every citizen to attend Wednesday’s meeting.

It will go from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the REMC building located on Morton Avenue.