Traces of the airplane engine degreaser TCE, that has contaminated the groundwater around a Utah air base since 1987, have been found in fruit grown nearby. TCE causes cancer in laboratory rats, but has not been linked to cancer in humans.
Utah State University researchers found trichloroethylene in about 90 percent of fruit grown in the yards of nine nearby homes. Scientists at Hill Air Force Base say there is no immediate health risk but will continue investigating, says Steve Hicken, an environmental engineer at the base.
The base, which is about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, plans to eventually eliminate the TCE contamination. Used solvents were routinely dumped into the ground in the 1940s, according to base spokesman Charles Freeman. ?As we got more environmentally conscious, we realized it wasn?t a good thing to do and are cleaning up the results of what occurred years ago.?
Live near a air base and have a backyard garden? Be careful?that salad might be deadly.
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Be careful when you go swimming as well. Toxic chemicals absorbed over decades by the Great Lakes are now being exhaled from the waters years after the polluting is over. Lake Ontario alone released almost two tons of now-banned PCBs) into the air from 1992 to 1996, according to a study by the Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network. PCBs were used to insulate electrical transformers and capacitors. They have been banned in the United States and Canada since the mid-1970s but are still widely used in the Third World.
Keith Puckett, a researcher with Canada?s environment ministry, says the ?outgassing? of chemicals only involved banned substances that are no longer present in the atmosphere in significant concentrations. ?Think of the lakes as giant lungs that have been sucking in polluted air for the last 50 years,? he says. ?Now that atmospheric levels of many of these pollutants have dropped below the equilibrium point, the lakes are starting to exhale.?
This shows that the lakes can cleanse themselves once the source of polluting chemicals has been cut. ?It came as quite a surprise to us,? Puckett says. ?Traditionally we always thought of the Great Lakes as the ultimate destination for many of these toxic chemicals that we find in the atmosphere. It seems now they no longer behave as a repository, but are indeed releasing them back into the air.?
Puckett says there is no threat to public health. ?Most of what you get (in toxic contamination) comes in the food that you eat rather than the air you breathe,? he says. ?I don't think this is a significant concern.? So it?s OK to breathe, but we should still worry about those TCE apples.
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