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Health, Science and Technology

Families prepare to sue SLO County over TCE-tainted wells

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The San Luis Obispo County area where private wells are testing positive for TCE.

Residents of a San Luis Obispo County neighborhood are in the early stages of suing the County over a toxic chemical that is testing positive in their well water. 

San Diego-based Gomez Environmental Law is representing the property owners and told KCBX on Wednesday morning that 50 claims are now filed against the county on behalf of 20 individual families.

The chemical at issue is trichloroethylene (TCE) and it's showing up in residential wells in an area adjacent to the southern edge of the county-owned airport.

John Fiske is the attorney representing the families and says his clients are angry.

"For many years, if not decades, we believe these family and their children have been drinking contaminated water out of their water wells, and we believe the source of the contamination is coming from the San Luis Obispo Airport," said Fiske.

An investigation by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board is looking into that very possibility. Senior Engineering Geologist Thea Tryon is working on the case. She said Wednesday that the Airport has until next Friday, April 15, 2016, to submit a timeline for how soil and groundwater will be sampled. If that plan is approved, the Water Board will then monitor the process. 

"We will review the results to see if that is the case, that there's a source on the airport property that is causing the pollution in the domestic supply wells that are in the Buckley area," said Tryon.

The contamination came to light last year when the county was contacted to check on an odor coming from a resident's well water. Dr. Penny Borenstein is the head of County Health, and says they looked into the "nuisance complaint."

"We did go out in that regard and test an individual well, which is not something that we do routinely, and that started the trail of additional findings," said Borenstein.

To date. the county has tested 64 wells with 12 showing TCE levels beyond what's considered acceptable.

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NOTE: An earlier version of this story referred to the head of San Luis Obispo County Public Health as Dr. "Peggy" Borenstein, when in fact it's Dr "Penny" Borenstein. KCBX News regrets the error.