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Cleaning solvent comes back to haunt Holden

Just checking: A map prepared by environmental consultants showing the area of houses being checked for TCE pollution near Holden’s Elizabeth factory.

Contaminated soil near SA houses prompts toxic gas health checks by Holden

Holden logo9 Aug 2012

HOUSES near Holden’s Elizabeth car factory in South Australia are being checked for traces of pollution from a toxic industrial solvent that has contaminated ground water under the plant after leaking into the soil decades ago.

Traces of gas produced by the chemical trichloroethene (TCE) – a cleaning and degreasing solvent commonly used in the 1960s and 1970s – have been found two metres underground near the houses by environmental consultants hired by Holden, prompting checks to see if the gas is leaking into the atmosphere.

More than 90 residents in an area next to the Holden property have been asked for permission for testing equipment to be left on the properties for a few days to check for traces of the gas in the crawl space under their houses.

The checks are being made in consultation with the South Australian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), which has been kept informed of research into the TCE pollution issue since it was discovered in an environmental audit of Holden’s factory in early 2011.

Back then, the EPA said the danger to residents was low, but advised nearby residents to stop using bore water.

 center imageFrom top: Holden's Richard Phillips Holden's Elizabeth plant.

Holden says the TCE could have come from any one of a number of industrial concerns in the area, but says it is undertaking the checks as part of its commitment to the local community.

TCE was regularly used to clean parts and machinery for many years – and is even said to be used to decaffeinate coffee – but was discontinued due to health issues, mostly minor problems such as respiratory irritation and dizziness, although scientists warned of potential for more serious problems such as elevated chances of certain cancers and lower fertility in men.

However, low concentrations are believed to be harmless.

TCE was frequently washed away with water, soaking into the ground and thus into the groundwater, later forming gas under the surface.

The original traces of TCE at Elizabeth were found in groundwater at 18-20 metres, but ground boring has now found pockets of TCE vapour at one-to-two metres on land north of the Holden property.

Similar TCE pollution was found around Mitsubishi’s Clovelly Park site in South Australia, prompting a similar action in league with the EPA.

GM Holden yesterday announced it had written to residents in the area to alert them to the situation and to offer to test for the vapour under their houses.

Holden executive director manufacturing Richard Phillips said that Holden recognised it was one of several industrial entities in the area that might have caused the contamination several decades ago, but as part of its commitment to the community it had stepped up to investigate the issue.

He said that Holden would decide on appropriate action once it had further test results.

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