Families living near a former General Electric factory in Tell City have filed a lawsuit against the company claiming lower property values and a risk to human health because of contaminants released from the plant into the environment.
The suit was filed in Perry County circuit court in October of 2020, with 36 families as plaintiffs.
TCE was first discovered in soil samples on the property in October 2010.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management first notified the public of the contamination in 2017. GE was conducting environmental investigations for a sale of the property and found trichloroethylene (TCE) to be migrating into the groundwater beyond the boundary of the facility.
GE began remediation on the facility’s grounds in 2017, removing contaminated soil from around the former hazardous waste storage pad.
It wasn’t until 2018 that GE and IDEM identified 76 properties near the former plant that could be at risk for vapor intrusion. Fifty-two were confirmed by IDEM to not need additional sampling, and 17 properties were offered mitigation systems.
TCE at levels exceeding IDEM standards was found in one property in an unfinished basement and another in a detached garage, but not inside main living spaces. IDEM suggested mitigation systems be installed at these two properties.
At 15 other properties, TCE was detected in moderate levels in vapor samples collected beneath the building slabs. Although IDEM didn’t require vapor mitigation systems for those properties, GE offered mitigation systems as a preventative measure.
No soil remediation on any residential homes or businesses in the area has been carried out as of now.
“GE remains committed to taking the steps necessary to protect the environment and the local community around its former facility in Tell City, Indiana,” said a GE spokesperson. "Our first priorities, upon identifying offsite impacted groundwater in 2018, were to address the potential for vapor intrusion and ensure the safety of the public drinking supply wells. Moving forward, we continue to work with state officials to look at options to improve area groundwater quality.”
Property owners have been concerned about lowering property values and possible health issues. Negotiations between the families and GE initially went well, but stalled, prompting the lawsuit.
“What we find is this portion neighborhood of Tell City, lots of people have property that's non-marketable as a result of this plume,” said Michael Schopmeyer, a lawyer representing the families. “We're trying to secure the marketability of the property, and then scientific assurances that they're not at property or personal injury or health risk as a result.”
Researchers believe there is a connection between TCE exposure in the environment and the large increase in Parkinson’s disease rates. In the past decade, the number of people with Parkinson’s has increased by a third and is expected to double again in the next 25 years, according to researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Parkinson’s is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement and often includes tremors and difficulty talking.
Other health issues associated with TCE exposure are kidney cancer, heart defects, leukemia and birth defects in infants.
Schopmeyer said it’s not clear yet whether any Tell City residents have suffered health problems because of TCE exposure, but so far, it appears such problems are nonexistent or limited.
“This may be largely a property damage case,” he said.
The residents in this area of town are on municipal water, and the city has been testing its wells every three months for possible contamination. As of now, no TCE has been found in the municipal water. GE has been reimbursing the city for the costs associated with the tests.
In a statement to the Indiana Environmental Reporter, IDEM said, “GE has installed an approved groundwater monitoring well network to the west and slightly northwest of its site, which is the direction the contaminant plume is moving.”
Despite the monitoring wells, Schopmeyer would like to see more accomplished.
He said families have asked GE for funds to retain independent scientific consultants, such as geologists, chemists and medical doctors, in order to ascertain potential personal injury and the extent of property damage impact. So far, GE has not responded to the requests.
GE says it is fully committed to working with the Tell City neighborhood and state officials to complete a thorough assessment of the former small motors plant.
“There's a win-win solution here. And we're hopeful we can reach it with GE,” Schopmeyer.
GE has also said that it will continue to inform residents and city officials about environmental work through periodic mailings and a toll-free information line at 1-800-741-3120.