Report claims Henderson officials downplayed chemical exposure at area company

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HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT) As city officials start studying the impact of what is known as a forever chemical, found at the site of an area company, a report claims city officials didn’t act fast enough on informing residents of the problem.

A report from NPR affiliate WFPL in Louisville says city officials first downplayed the extent of the pollution caused by PFAS chemicals exposed at Shamrock Technologies buildings in Henderson, found in the soil and ground water, and its impact and didn’t tell residents sooner about it. Company officials say it was first detected in 2018, and they information state environmental officials after it happened. Residents at Tuesday’s city commission meeting say they should have known sooner.

“This may not affect me, but it is going to affect the children in this city,” said Deborah Hoda of Henderson.

“It seems like we would be taking this a little more seriously,” added Kaycee Garner of Henderson.

“The lack of transparency and the fact that city officials of Henderson and others have known that this was an issue for months of who knows how long really was troubling because these forever chemicals are dangerous,” said John Blair of Valley Watch.

Henderson Mayor Steve Austin says they learned of the severity of the exposure in late 2020. The city recently formed a working group to address environmental issues surrounding the chemical. They expected state and federal environmental officials to notify residents, and weren’t given signs of the spill’s severity. He says the city has no regulatory authority over the chemical.

“We expected the EPA to do that, and they thought it wasn’t that big of deal is what it seemed like to me, because it was all contained,” he said.

Shamrock officials say they did soil, water and air tests after the discovery, on and off site, as part of an agreed order with the department of environmental protection.

“We are still in the characterization phase. The next phase will be to quantify that, and then work on what controlled technology as well as remediation efforts. That will be working hand in hand with Kentucky Dept. of Environmental Protection,” said Michael Jussila, Global Manufacturing Director at Shamrock.

Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet officials say immediate notification of residents and action was warranted at that time, given the need for additional site characterization, adding that showed no exposure concentrations that exceed target risk levels to human health as defined. The chemicals were not found in city drinking water, which comes from a few miles upstream.

“The EPA has published an advisory, an unenforceable limit of 70 parts per trillion. The highest we have seen in our drinking water was 5 parts per trillion. So, we’re 1/14 of the published limit,” said Tom Williams of Henderson Water Utility. Shamrock also did their own tests on the water, showing similar results.

The report also says the chemical found in the water was a reason an unnamed food producer decided not to put a multi million dollar project that could have brought up to 90 jobs in the Henderson area. But local officials said they were not told that was the reason they weren’t selected.

Prof. Kelly Pennell of the University of Kentucky College of Engineering says PFAS chemicals are not regulated at the state and federal level, and scientists are still studying its impact on humans. But studies have linked them to a range of health problems.

“We have a lot of learning to do and to catch up since they’ve been used for decades and decades. And we still don’t have all the analytical techniques to detect where all they are in our environment,” Pennell said.

City officials say there were things they could have done differently after hearing of the chemical exposure.

(This story was originally published on November 12, 2021)

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