The Town of Andrews is asking Raytheon Technologies Corporation to take immediate steps to remove dangerous chemicals from the town’s drinking water.
According to the emergency motion for preliminary injunction filed earlier this week by the Town of Andrews against Raytheon Technologies Corporation, three of the town’s wells which supply the public with drinking water were contaminated after Raytheon dumped and spilled hazardous chemicals at the factory they operated in the town.
On Friday evening, Andrews were being advised to not use the town’s water until further notice after a test revealed that the water contains contaminants above Federal Safe Drinking Water Standards, according to Huntington County Emergency Management (EMA).
Within an hour of Huntington County EMA contacting Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS), several pallets of water were en route to Andrews.
According to the emergency motion, one of the wells which has recently become a main source for water for the town after two of the other wells lost production capacity to meet the town’s needs in May 2020, has shown signs of increasing levels of vinyl chloride, a human carcinogen (a substance that can promote the formation of cancer).
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the maximum contaminate level (MCL) which indicates how much vinyl chloride is allowable in drinking water is just 2 parts per billion (ppb). According to the emergency motion, the levels in the Andrews well have steadily increased since 2012, and during the last sampling event were reported at 26 ppb, more than 10 times the allowed MCL.
In the mid 1990s, Raytheon installed an air stripper to remove contamination from the town’s drinking water, but recently the air stripper has proven unreliable and has experienced numerous problems.
When the air stripper is not working properly, contamination from the municipal wells can get into the public drinking water supply. During a similar occurrence in 2012, the town of Andrews received multiple complaints from residents about the odor and taste of drinking water.
At the time, the town shut off wellhead one and relied on wellheads two and three to supply the town with water and meet drinking water needs. Since May 2020, however, wellhead one is again supplying water to residents of Andrews.
Beginning on June 6, 2020 the air stripper had major problems with its flow rate that caused the town’s water equipment to malfunction. The problems began on Friday night and continued for five days through Wednesday, June 10.
Raytheon defendants failed to inform the town that the air stripper was not working properly as contaminated water was potentially distributed through the public water system while the malfunction occurred.
According to the emergency motion, the air stripper has had numerous problems in the past and not is not a reliable safeguard to the public from the vinyl chloride contamination in the municipal wells.
The motion states that the threatened injuries to residents within the town of Andrews and to the public water supply greatly outweigh any potential cost to Raytheon for ensuring that their chemicals do not enter the drinking water supplied to the town.
The town of Andrews requests that the Court enter an Order that requires Raytheon to immediately supply bottled water to the residents of the Town for drinking, cooking and bathing; requires Raytheon to install new municipal wells that are vertically or horizontally separated from the groundwater contaminant plume; requires Raytheon to make improvements and upgrade their air stripping system; and provide all other appropriate relief that is just and proper.
Emergency town council meeting
An Emergency Town Council meeting held by the Town of Andrews on Monday left residents with few answers and temporary relief as developments in the town’s water emergency continue to unfold.
Emotions ran high as Andrews residents sought answers ranging from “can I wash my hands?” to “why didn’t the Town of Andrews do their own testing?” from local officials during Monday’s meeting.
Attorney Tom Barnard gave an overview of the situation leading up to the emergency meeting that started when the automotive factory Raytheon Technologies, formerly United Technologies, in Andrews released Trichlorethylene into the environment in the 1990s.
That chemical migrated 2,700 feet, seeping its way into the public well field, contaminating all three well systems in Andrews.
Two of the wells, which the town has relied upon since 2012, have tested positive for the contaminant vinyl chloride, which is a degradation product of Trichlorethylene – but one wellhead that was recently turned back in May on contained around 13 times the minimum contaminant level.
That air stripper broke down on the weekend of June 6 until June 10, potentially exposing the town’s residents to carcinogens; chemicals known to promote cancer development.
“They don’t control it, they don’t own it, the building in which it’s installed is locked,” said Barnard. “It’s a building where town utility folks don’t have access.”
Following an emergency motion by the Town of Andrews, the Huntington Superior Court judge has set motion for hearing for Thursday at 10 a.m. The goal of the motion is to get Andrews residents clean and safe drinking water.
“The goal would be to find once and for all a clean supply of water, because you should not be using your public well field to draw in and capture a chemical that is a known human carcinogen and hope to take it back out before you drink it,” Barnard said.
“The whole idea of a public well field is that you find the cleanest water that you can and you don’t let anybody dump anything that’s going to be in that watershed that could impact those wells because you don’t want to have to take vinyl chloride out of your drinking water supply, and that’s the situation that the town is in right now.”
Andrews resident R.B. Jones says he and many others understand that the town is not responsible for the initial contamination, but he asked officials why the town hasn’t taken action to resolve the problem.
“If the town has known United Technologies was supposed to be taking care of this problem, why hasn’t the town in the last 20 years made sure that the problem was being taken care of?”
“The town of Andrews, you say is not to blame – I know they’re not to blame for poisoning the water, but they are to blame for not saying ‘we’re going to step in here’ ten years ago and do their own test and make sure that their tests are done privately and have been done right. Why hasn’t the town of Andrews stepped up and said ‘we need to have our own test?’”
Andrews Town Councilman John Harshbarger claims the town has been working on the problem with attorneys for four years and says the town was always told not to worry about the contamination.
“IDEM (Indiana Department of Environmental Management) controls this, you know the town of Andrews doesn’t tell IDEM what to do,” Harshbarger said. “Eight years ago, Mr. (Ray) Tackett and I on numerous occasions tried to get people in here to take care of this problem, and every time they came in they said to us ‘there’s nothing wrong, don’t worry about it.’ We tried to get them to test additional houses – we asked if there was anything north of California Street – and it was always ‘no’ and ‘we’re not going to test.’”
Several residents accused the council of putting the town of jeopardy by turning the well back on.
“I understand that you guys have been fighting this for a long time, I really do. And I know the town of Andrews did not contaminate the water, but you all should have told (us), I’ve lived here six years and this is the first time I’ve heard of any kind of contamination,” Jones said. “If you’ve been talking about it for eight-and-a-half years, why haven’t you sent out letters?”
In the way of temporary relief actions, Huntington County Commissioner Tom Wall notified residents that the Parkview Huntington Family YMCA has volunteered services during business hours for Andrews, Indiana residents to sign in and take showers with their families. Huntington County Commissioners also put up $5,000 on Monday to provide more bottled water for the town.
“We’ve just become aware of this just like you folks,” Wall said. “Huntington County Emergency Management director Bob Jeffers and Butch Williams are trying to get the resources to do what they can to get you water here.”
The court case has been moved to federal court.