N.C. neighbors aghast to learn drinking water contaminated for years By Charlotte Huffman WNCN/News-17 WAKE FOREST, N.C. -- A Wake Forest community is in an uproar after learning the state of North Carolina knew a resident’s water had been contaminated with toxic chemicals and failed to alert other residents for more than six years. “It makes me feel horrible,” homeowner Michele Hamilton said of unknowingly giving the toxic water to her kids. “They’re the most important things to me.” <object width="429" height="295"><param name="movie" value="http://vp.mgnetwork.net/viewer.swf?u=790396727061103080ec001ec92a4a0d&z=NCN%3%" ></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><embed src="http://vp.mgnetwork.net/viewer.swf?u=790396727061103080ec001ec92a4a0d&z=NCN%3%" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" width="429" height="295"></embed></object> The EPA called families in the community this past summer, saying their water is contaminated with a cancer-causing chemical called trichloroethylene, or TCE, and to not drink, bathe or cook with the water. “I remember where we were when we got the phone call - we were on vacation this summer with our family,” Hamilton said. Neighbors Monica Stonefield and Frances Cuda got the same call. “Of course we were frightened and scared,” Stonefield said. “I was very nervous,” Cuda said. “I think anybody would be.” Within days of the calls to homeowners, the EPA set up an emergency command post and placed safe water on their doorsteps regularly. The EPA installed water filters in the homes with contamination levels above the EPA’s safety standard. And the EPA called a community meeting to explain what neighbors had been drinking. Gerald LeBlanc, the head of N.C. State University’s Department of Environmental and molecular toxicology, said TCE is a chemical that cleaning industries have used for years to remove grease. It is cheap, highly effective – and very toxic. “Based upon animal studies, we know that it has the ability to do harm,” LeBlanc said. LeBlanc said TCE “has been known to cause cancer” specifically leukemia, breast cancer, lung cancer, and there are symptoms associated with TCE exposure that are like Parkinson’s disease. Cuda said she has Parkinson’s disease. She also said she has gotten cysts, including “a lot of them in this left breast.” Doctors have not confirmed it, but Cuda believes the development of many large cysts in her left breast and having Parkinson’s disease is due to TCE. Cuda said a neighbor died from breast cancer. “And you know, she was a lovely person,” Cuda said. “She was in her 50s.” The problem dates back to 10 years ago, where circuit boards were cleaned with the toxin inside a shed on Stony Hill Road in Wake Forest. The TCE exited the building through a pipe and poured straight onto the ground. About three years later, the chemical showed up in a well at the house next door. At the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Charlotte Jesneck’s division took the case. “It looked to be that the contamination was confined to that well,” Jesneck said. So in 2005, DENR moved on. Through a Freedom of Information Act, NBC-17 obtained 800 pages from DENR’s files. Inside those pages, NBC-17 found dozens of red flags, including a two-page summary sent from DENR staff to senior managers in 2008 saying, “There are other wells along Stony Hill Road that should be sampled to check their status.” .