SODA SPRINGS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - In Soda Springs the issue of contaminated ground water from plant chemicals is not a new issue.
It's a problem that many organizations have been monitoring and working on for at least 20 years. Thursday night there was a public open house where people could hear about the progress on the contamination, and talk to experts and ask questions about it.
“We have some selenium in the water underneath our plant that has moved away from the plant," said Roger Gibson, Monsanto's plant manager. "We’ve been working with the EPA to generate solutions to that issue.”
Monsanto's neighbor across the street, the former Tronox/Kerr-McGee plant, has a similar issue. The former plant has an element called molybdenum moving away from its facility. The plant declared bankruptcy in 2009 and the site is now owned by Multistate Trust. Multistate Trust is working with the DEQ and the EPA to clean up the contaminant.
Monsanto is doing the same - working with the EPA and DEQ to clean up the selenium from its site.
Work to clean up the contamination began around ten to 15 years ago. Progress studies were done every five years. After the second study, it was found that levels of those contaminants were going down, but they were not decreasing as much as hoped.
“We found that the selenium plume was a little longer than it had been expected to be," said Douglas Tanner, regional environmental manager at DEQ. "And the molybdenum plume was a little wider than it had been.”
Since then, additional measures have been taken to try and find additional sources of the contamination and to find alternate methods for a faster clean up.
Tanner said in one of the most recent studies, they did find the molybdenum plume from McGee runs underneath some homes in Soda Springs. However, he said it affects the groundwater being sumped into basements. It does not affect city water sources.
“The studies have shown that where the city of Soda Springs gets its drinking water from - those sources are safe," Tanner said. "And the true message that we just want to deliver is for drinking water, just use city drinking water and there is no additional risk exposure based upon the new information that we have found.”
When asked if that ground water would have an effect were to be used for watering a garden or get around pets, Tanner said no. Most of that ground water that would be sumped out of basements would not be used for any of those purposes. Tanner said even if it were, molybdenum and selenium both are only harmful in larger amounts. Small amounts of those elements are actually a health benefit.
Though there is no risk or threat to the public, Tanner said the DEQ still has a caution for those in Soda Springs.
Pamphlets at the open house recommend not to use ground water or surface water for cooking, drinking or bathing. Public tap water is safe for all of those things.
Tanner said the ultimate goal is to make sure those plumes of contamination are contained back within each plant's property.
Both Monsanto and Multistate Trust are utilizing various resources to help with cleanup.
"The bottom line is Monsanto is committed to fixing this situation," Gibson said. "We've invested pretty heavily on developing a solution and we hope to get that solution approved and then we can begin implementing the solution to fix this."
Multistate has installed 28 new wells to monitor groundwater. The trust said it has removed about one million pounds of hazardous waste from the site since taking over, as well as about one million pounds of other materials to facilitate cleanup efforts.
Tanner said for those who want more information about selenium and molybdenum and health tips, there will be brochures at the local public health department. Those sheets will have health information as well as contact information for the DEQ, EPA and others where you can direct other questions or concerns to.
Tanner said environmental investigations and cleanup efforts at both plants will continue.