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Tainted Garden City wells added to EPA priority list

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A federal agency has added Garden City to its national priorities cleanup list because of contaminated groundwater and wells.

The community lies between downtown Columbus and the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds along State Road 11.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in May that it was considering adding the unincorporated town of about 50 homes and eight other hazardous waste sites nationwide to its priorities list of Superfund sites.

The federal program investigates and cleans up hazardous waste sites.

According to an EPA fact sheet, Garden City drinking-water wells have shown intermittent trichloroethene, or TCE, contamination since 1990. The source of the contamination is unknown, according to the EPA, and the underground plume covers about 3.4 acres.

The EPA said being placed on the list doesn’t obligate it to pay for the cleanup but does identify the size and nature of the cleanup challenges.

Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown and the director of Columbus City Utilities previously said there is no sign that the city’s wells, some of which are just south of the town, have been affected by the contamination.

Keith Reeves, director of Columbus City Utilities, said in May that his department found TCE contamination when it was looking for sites for new wells in the early 1990s. He did not know if that was the first positive test at Garden City, but the results were referred to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Reeves said.

Subsequent city tests in the area found no contamination, Reeves said.

Garden City is built over one large, sandy aquifer, Reeves said. The city has 15 wells in the vicinity of the fairgrounds, with the ones at Dunn Stadium the closest to the underground plume in Garden City.

Reeves said the closest well is half a mile to three-quarters of mile away from the plume, and models of the underground plume show the contamination moving toward the East Fork White River, Reeves said.

While the city is required to test its wells for volatile organic chemicals such as TCE every two years, the water is tested about every six months because of the proximity to the Garden City plume, Reeves said.

Should the city wells ever show a contamination, the city has several options, including shutting down the northernmost wells or treating the water to remove the contaminant, Reeves said.

The mayor said in May she hoped adding the site to the federal list would help residents get the resources necessary to remediate the problem.

The city has offered Garden City residents the option of tapping into the city water system.

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