The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) is assisting the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) in its assessment and evaluation 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 degradation products, including trichloroethene (TCE). There is evidence these substances have leaked from their storage container into the ground. When volatile compounds such as PCE and TCE are present in the ground and shallow groundwater they may produce vapors that can enter a building through cracks in the foundation, around the pipes, or through a drain system. When chemical vapors move from air spaces in soil to indoor air, this process is called vapor intrusion. If vapor intrusion is occurring in nearby buildings it could present health concerns.
LDEQ is overseeing the sampling and remediation efforts from this leak. This includes an evaluation of whether vapor intrusion has occurred in the buildings near the closed dry cleaners. LDH will work with LDEQ to review the sampling results and will provide technical support to the environmental contractors performing indoor air sampling. LDH has access to subject matter experts on vapor intrusion 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) routinely monitors the public drinking water supply. Out of an abundance 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 drinking water supply in this area.
The health effects of PCE and TCE depend on the quantity to which an individual is exposed as well as the length of time they are exposed. Exposure to elevated levels of PCE or TCE may cause headaches, dizziness, incoordination and sleepiness. Exposure to PCE over months or years may cause changes in mood, memory, attention, reaction time and vision. Exposure to TCE over months or years can cause long-term, or chronic, health problems, such as immune system effects.
Women who are in their first 8 weeks of pregnancy are most sensitive to TCE exposures. TCE exposures may increase the risk of health problems in the developing fetus, such as heart defects and problems with the immune system which make the baby prone to infections.
PCE has been associated with bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin 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 an exposure does not necessarily mean there will be an impact to your health. The evidence that PCE or TCE exposure has the potential to increase one’s risk of developing cancer or cause other health problems comes from information on workers exposed at very high levels and animal studies. The data that scientists gather on chemical exposure, which often represents a worst case scenario, is used by environmental regulatory and health agencies to protect the public from future exposures.
LDH takes any potential environmental exposure to known or suspected carcinogens very seriously. As a result, 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 Section of Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology at (888) 293-7020.