Mar 05, 2007

Chemicals May Close Dry Cleaning Plant at California Prison

A dry cleaning plant at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif., may be scaled back or closed after traces of dry-cleaning chemicals were found in the area’s well water.

According to the Amador Ledger Dispatch, prison Warden Rich Subia reported that he is unable to immediately close down the plant because it involves prison employees.

Subia also contends that the chemicals might be coming from a different source in the area.

Mike Israel, director of the county's environmental health department, collected and analyzed water from six local wells. Israel reported that four of those samples had non-detectable levels of volatile organic compounds that could have come from a dry cleaning plant.

One well at a house near the prison showed evidence of compounds at a level lower than the public drinking water standard. Another well, an irrigation well, showed levels of chloroform that exceeded drinking water standards. Israel could not determine where the chloroform came from, but it is generally a byproduct of disinfection.

Traces of tetrachloroethene, a dry-cleaning chemical commonly known as PERC, was also found in that well, in addition to 1,1-dichloroethane, which often comes from the breakdown of dry-cleaning chemicals.

County health officers have not determined if these chemicals will make the well water unsafe for bathing or other household uses.

Subia told the Amador Ledger Dispatch that until monitoring wells can be drilled on the prison property itself officials cannot determine that the contamination is coming from the prison.

If the dry-cleaning compounds or the nitrates are proven to be coming from the prison, Subia has agreed that he will work with the Regional Water Quality Control Board to clean them up.

Israel would like to collect the samples from treated effluent at the prison as well as from Mule Creek, upstream of the fields adjacent to the prison, where treated effluent is discharged.

The dry-cleaning plant at the prison provides vocational education to inmates, who dry-clean clothing owned by prison employees.