New concern with toxic chemical in Algona groundwater

by: Gary Horcher Updated:

ALGONA, Wash. —

Alvine Drayton thought the city of Algona would be the perfect place to move and raise her children. Now, she worries a toxic chemical vapor may be seeping into her home.

"I'm scared," Drayton said through tears, still weak from a severe illness that almost took her life four months ago."I just need to know, is it the chemical, a chemical I can't see, that was making me sick?"

Now, Boeing, and the State Department of Ecology are planning to test the air in Drayton's home, and almost two dozen of her Algona neighbors.

The chemical Drayton and other homeowners are worried about is TCE, or Trichloroethylene, a powerful solvent Boeing used as a de-greasing agent in its former Auburn plant from 1966 until the early 80s,

when exposure became known to cause cancer.

For the last 10 years, researchers have found traces of TCE in groundwater from the area of the former Boeing plant, to the parking lot of the Auburn Super Mall, to neighborhoods in neighboring Algona.

Now, the Department of Ecology is revealing plans to place air testing machines where the concentration of TCE has been greatest. Department of Ecology engineers have only found small amounts in test wells on the north part of Algona. Boeing said no homeowner is in any immediate danger, but the testing is necessary to calm fears.

"I'm worried about my health, my children's health, my animals' health, my neighbors, all my friends," said homeowner Stacie Sippo. "I wish they would test the air in every home, so we can stop worrying." 

"We are members of this community, too," said Boeing environmental engineer Steven Tochko. "We want to mitigate and fix all the issues as soon as possible."

Tochko said if the machines detect TCE vapors have risen from groundwater into their homes, Boeing would provide fans to ventilate the vapors.

He also pointed out that small exposures to TCE may not cause health problems. So far, he said, there have been no illnesses in Algona attributable to TCE exposure.

Still, some homeowners say the situation has caused their property values to drop dramatically.

 "My house is probably worth zero right now," said homeowner Jill Mentzer. "It's really sad."