The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) is assisting the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) in its assessment and assessment of a chemical leak that occurred at Imperial Cleaners, a dry cleaning site now closed in downtown Minden, located in Webster Parish.
The loss relates to the chemical tetrachlorethene (PCE) and its degradation products, including trichlorethene (TCE). There is evidence that these substances have leaked from their storage container into the ground. When volatile compounds such as PCE and TCE are present in soil and shallow groundwater, they can produce vapors that can enter a building through cracks in the foundation, around pipes or through a drainage system. When chemical vapors move from airspace in the ground to indoor air, this process is called vapor intrusion. If steam intrusion occurs in nearby buildings, it could present health problems.
LDEQ is overseeing the sampling and remediation efforts from this leak. This includes an assessment of whether steam intrusion has occurred in buildings near closed dry cleaners. LDH will work with LDEQ to review sampling results and will provide technical support to environmental contractors performing indoor air sampling. LDH has access to vapor intrusion experts from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
LDH’s Safe Drinking Water (SDWP) program regularly monitors the public supply of drinking water. Out of caution, the SDWP is currently monitoring the public water supply wells and distribution system for any potential contamination. To date, no drinking water samples have exceeded acceptable levels for these or other substances. LDH will continue to monitor the drinking water supply in this area.
The health effects of PCE and TCE depend on the amount an individual is exposed to and the time they are exposed. Exposure to high levels of PCE or TCE can cause headache, dizziness, incoordination and sleepiness. Exposure to PCE for months or years can cause changes in mood, memory, attention, reaction time, and vision. Exposure to TCE for months or years can cause long-term or chronic health problems, such as effects on the immune system.
Women who are in the first 8 weeks of pregnancy are the most sensitive to TCE exposure. Exposure to TCE can increase the risk of health problems in the developing fetus, such as heart defects and immune system problems that make the baby prone to infections.
PCE has been associated with bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma. There is strong evidence that TCE can cause kidney cancer in workers with prolonged exposure and some evidence for TCE-induced liver cancer and malignant lymphoma.
It is important to note that exposure does not necessarily mean there will be an impact on health. Evidence that exposure to PCE or TCE has the potential to increase the risk of developing cancer or causing other health problems comes from information on workers exposed to very high levels and from animal studies. The data scientists collect on chemical exposure, which often represents a worst-case scenario, is used by health and environmental regulatory agencies to protect the public from future exposure.
LDH takes any potential environmental exposure to known or suspected carcinogens very seriously. As a result, LDH will continue to closely monitor this situation and provide regular updates on drinking water results and public health recommendations.
Community members with health problems or problems can call the LDH Section of Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology at (888) 293-7020.