The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) is assisting the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) in its assessment of a chemical leak that occurred at Imperial Cleaners, a now closed dry cleaning site in downtown Minden, located in Webster Parish.
The leak involves the chemical tetrachloroethene (PCE) and its breakdown products, including trichloroethene (TCE). There is evidence that these substances escaped 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 foundations, around pipes, or through a drainage system. . When chemical vapors move from the air spaces of the ground into the indoor air, this process is called vapor intrusion. If steam intrusion occurs in nearby buildings, it could present health concerns.
LDEQ is overseeing efforts to sample and remediate this leak. This includes an assessment to determine if steam intrusion has occurred in buildings near closed dry cleaners. LDH will work with LDEQ to review the sampling results and provide technical support to environmental contractors performing indoor air sampling. LDH has access to vapor intrusion subject matter 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 Program (SDWP) regularly monitors the public drinking water supply. As a precaution, the SDWP is currently monitoring public water supply wells and the distribution system for any potential contamination. To date, no drinking water sample has 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 as well as the duration of exposure. Exposure to high levels of PCE or TCE can cause headaches, dizziness, incoordination and drowsiness. 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 their first 8 weeks of pregnancy are most susceptible to TCE exposures. Exposures 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 long-term exposure and some evidence of TCE-induced liver cancer and malignant lymphoma.
It is important to note that exposure does not necessarily mean that there will be an impact on your 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 studies on animals. Data that scientists collect on exposure to chemicals, which often represent a worst-case scenario, are used by environmental and health regulatory agencies to protect the public from future exposures.
LDH takes any potential environmental exposure to known or suspected carcinogens very seriously. Accordingly, LDH will continue to monitor this situation closely and provide regular updates regarding drinking water results and public health recommendations.
Community members with health questions or concerns can call LDH’s Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology Section at (888) 293-7020.