• Independent Weekly file photo

UPDATE, 4/7/11: Carrboro town officials released another statement Thursday afternoon to note that N.C. DENR will soon announce a public information session on the contamination issues. N.C. DENR will also contact property owners, businesses and residents of potentially affected properties to coordinate additional environmental testing and mitigation measures at no cost. N.C. DENR asks that anyone seeking more information contact Cathy Akroyd, public information officer, at (919) 508-8438 or cathy.akroyd@ncdenr.gov

Carrboro town officials announced late Wednesday that the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is evaluating the spread of contamination from dry cleaning chemicals near businesses and homes at Weaver and Main streets, and that at least one site has shown high levels of a potentially carcinogenic chemical. (PDF announcement)

The contamination originated from the building at 408 W. Weaver St., which housed MEM One-Hour Martinizing in the early 1970s, according to a statement from Carrboro officials. The Carrboro site is one of hundreds statewide being tested and evaluated through an N.C. DENR program to measure and clean up widespread contamination of dry cleaning solvents from the past several decades.

A common dry-cleaning contaminant is perchloroethylene, also known as PERC, or tetrachlorethene, which was handled with less stringent restrictions in previous decades, but is now considered by federal health officials as a probable carcinogen. Spills and what would now be considered improper disposal of the chemical have contributed to contamination in the soil, groundwater and even the indoor air of properties near former and current dry cleaning businesses. Read “The dirt on dry cleaning,” Jan. 20, 2010

State officials first learned about contamination near 408 W. Weaver St. in 2009, when a test well at the gas station at 300 W. Main St. showed evidence of PERC, which it was later determined had migrated from the former dry cleaning service at 408 W. Weaver St. When the contamination was discovered, the owner of the building at 408 W. Weaver St. voluntarily entered the property into the state’s Dry Cleaning Solvent Cleanup Act program. Once the site was accepted into the program, N.C. DENR officials began analyzing the extent of the contamination there and completed a report on it in October, according to the Carrboro press release.

The DCSA program is paid for by a tax on dry cleaning services established several years ago. The owners of buildings accepted into the clean up program also bear some financial responsibility, paying 1.5 percent of the total costs to test, analyze and clean up the contaminated site.

For the past 12 years, the building at 408 W. Weaver St. has been home to Summerwind Pools & Spas, said business owner Jay Sunde. His business hasn’t been affected, and two indoor air tests showed the building was safe to be inside, Sunde said.

But according to the memo, tests of a nearby home or business showed high levels of the chemical PERC, and a toxicologist from the N.C. Department of Health and Human services has recommended that adjacent properties be tested for contamination.

It was unclear late Wednesday whether the new property showing contamination was a business or home, and whether the soil, groundwater or indoor air at that site was contaminated. With the statement’s release just before 5 p.m. Wednesday, neither officials from N.C. DENR, nor Carrboro officials were immediately available for more information.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s because it’s happening all over the country and state, with as many as 1,500 potentially contaminated sites across North Carolina, according to a 2010 annual report for the program, although just a fraction have been identified or entered into the DCSA program.

In Durham, one site near Northgate Mall has led to indoor air contamination in at least three neighboring buildings. The building that used to house a dry cleaning service is located at 1103 W. Club Blvd., and is slated for demolition and possibly a clean-up of contaminated soil after that.

According to the 2010 report, there are 13 total sites in Durham County, seven in Orange County, 39 in Wake County, and one in Chapel Hill that is technically in Chatham County. Of the Orange County sites, two are in Carrboro—the Weaver Street location and Hangers Cleaners at 127 Fidelity St., according to the 2010 report.