State experts say a Rutland eyesore is an environmental emergency. Tetrachloroethylene-- a dry cleaning solvent also known as perc-- is buried underneath and plunging toward the water-table.
"Our concern is most specifically related to migration of groundwater contaminated with perc," said George Desch, of the Department of Environmental Conservation.
The tab for cleanup should fall on the building's owner, John Ruggiero, who paid $10 for the property in a 2002 tax sale. But he's $170,000 behind on his taxes as of June 30, and says he can't afford it. So, the state is spending $1.2 million to clean it up.
"A lot of times we find it in groundwater but it's not affecting anybody. This one we're hoping to get out ahead of it before it actually gets to the residential area," Desch said.
The state installed wells to monitor the spread of the cancer-causing chemical and found it's spreading to a residential neighborhood.
"It's good that it's finally being cleaned up," David Knipes said.
Knipes has lived behind the property for 20 years and says he's disappointed cleanup took this long. He says it's been tough to live with the slow pace of action and information flow.
"When you look down the street, they have wells where the plume, toxic water has spread thus far. And people walk through here with their dogs, children, kids ride their bikes through here. We don't know what they're being exposed to," Knipes said.
"You name it, I've had it," said Mary Duprey, an area homeowner.
Some in the area say they believe some of their recent health problems are related to the underground plume, but officials insist there's no danger. Water testing wells show toxic levels, but residents are on city water, which is safe and self-contained.
The state will still seek to recoup its costs from Ruggiero, who has 29 properties in town. Ruggiero says he was trying to make the best of a property no one wanted-- including the city-- and ultimately he could not afford the upgrade when the economy tanked in 2008.
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