Many homeowners living in the southeast Phoenix neighborhood that houses the Motorola 52nd Street Superfund site will tell you they knew something was wrong with their environment. Property history of the area shows that in 1982 volatile organic compounds were found leaking from underground storage tanks at the Motorola site. What they can’t tell you is why it took the EPA took so long to investigate vapor intrusion in the area and order a cleanup.
The site was once home to Freescale Semiconductor, one of the nation’s first semi-conductor manufacturers, and in 1989 was placed on the Superfund list among 14 High Priority sites. It was known that levels of TCE, a known carcinogen, reached 1,470,000 ppb during sampling and a seven-mile chemical plume stretched underneath the surrounding neighborhoods. According to Lenny Siegel, of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, “Hundreds, maybe thousands of homes sit over the TCE plume. In 2003 a new elementary school opened less than a half-mile from the plant, near some of the highest alluvial aquifer TCE concentrations, with no reported vapor intrusion assessment or response.”
Finally, the EPA conducted site assessments of homes sitting atop the plume. Peter Busch, of KPHO News says, “The Environmental Protection Agency has discovered toxic chemicals beneath the ground of a southeast Phoenix neighborhood, and testing indicates that the chemicals have seeped into at least 16 homes or apartments.”
Theories abound as to why it took so long for the investigation. Some believe Arizona did not have the proper technology at the time of discovery. Others believe the racial make-up of the neighborhood discouraged a swift solution. The important thing, especially to residents like Victor Parra, who has already lost two family members to cancer, is that finally something is being done to ensure environmental safety. According to the EPA, “special ventilation systems will be installed in those homes or apartments” that showed contamination levels. This summer, they will perform tests in other areas surrounding the Superfund site.