FMC Corp. is making plans to clean up arsenic-contaminated groundwater draining into the Kansas River.
A cancer-causing element lurking in groundwater south of a phosphorous plant isn't getting any closer to homes in North Lawrence, but relatively high concentrations of arsenic are draining toward the Kansas River.
FMC Corp. has confirmed a "plume" of arsenic-contaminated groundwater running from beneath an old storage lagoon at the plant, 440 N. Ninth, to the river a third of a mile south.
The contamination is no surprise, as company officials noticed arsenic from the lagoon getting into groundwater more than 25 years ago. But recent tests on new monitoring wells near the river determined that arsenic also is making its way into the Kaw.
Now the question is how much, and what to do about it.
Preliminary tests ordered by FMC determined that the arsenic in the tainted groundwater is diluted to a level of anywhere from 0.22 parts per billion (ppb) to 0.44 ppb at the point where it enters the river, said Ken Deering, technical services manager for FMC.
The federal standard for safe drinking water -- the same standard used for the river -- is 50 ppb for arsenic.
"We're concerned about it," Deering said. "But as far as we can tell, there is no discernible impact to the river."
FMC has been working with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) to clean up the mess, and the plant intends to submit a "corrective action" plan within a year. Options include pumping out contaminated water for treatment -- either at the plant or near the river -- or injecting chemicals into the groundwater to remove arsenic through underground precipitation.
As it stands now, KDHE officials are satisfied with FMC's work.
"The concentrations of arsenic that have made it into the Kansas River do not present a threat to human health," said Mike Heideman, public information officer for KDHE.
If ingested, he said, high levels of arsenic can cause acute and chronic health problems, including cancer.
Don Palmateer, who lives and farms on 30 acres at the southeast corner of Ninth and Oak streets, said FMC had done all it could to help. The company paid to hook his home onto city water lines in 1996.
A monitoring well next to his home revealed arsenic levels of 260 ppb, or more than five times the health standard. A well to the west revealed an arsenic concentration of 680 ppb.
"They've been able to keep it in that area," said Palmateer, the only resident living on property above groundwater contaminated by FMC. "It don't sound like it's going to go away, but it's there and they've been doing some additional work.
"They're really trying to do what's right. ... They've been real cooperative."
-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.