Contamination concerns spreading to Fantastic Caverns

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo - Officials with Fantastic Caverns say Trichloroethylene (TCE) is now affecting the air and water quality in the cave. They say the contamination has migrated from the former Litton plant on Kearney St.

According to officials with Fantastic Caverns, Litton manufactured circuit boards. During operation, TCE was regularly used in their process. Now the underground attraction is working with Ozark Underground Laboratory to find a solution.

"Well, we don't know if it affects the entire region," Tom Aley, Hydrogeologist and President of Ozark Underground Laboratory, said. "It has the potential though. With such a large area being even closer to this waste site and Fantastic Caverns. We don't know where all of it is moving."

Aley says they have begun to drill a series of ventilation holes. They plan to continue drilling next week.

"More recently, we've been doing forced ventilation in the cave because the TCE is harmful to the cave and to a number of features in the cave," Aley said. "We want to make sure we have as little TCE in the cave air as possible."

Fantastic Caverns sent out a release Friday afternoon, here it is in part:
"The owners of Fantastic Caverns have been concerned both for the cave and for employees. Fantastic Caverns has contracted with Ozark Underground Laboratory (OUL) to help address the concern. Ozark Underground Laboratory scientists have been hard at work. The scientist have surveyed and designed a series of ventilation shafts west of the caverns to ventilate the TCE vapors before they would be able to enter the lower levels of the toured portion of the cave. Drilling will start this week.

How extensive is the TCE contamination? It has reached regional springs, 13% of the tested wells contain TCE and TCE vapors have reached the lower levels of Fantastic Caverns three miles away. Storm water runoff from the airport sinkholes is radial. Dye traces connect the region to Williams Spring to the northwest, Ritter Springs to the east, Radar Spring to the south and Clear Creek to the west. The impacted area could well be over 30 Square miles. The Litton site could well be the largest uncontrolled chemical release in Missouri.

After more than 30 years, the ordered cleanup is still limited to the old plant site. To date, no attempt has been made to recover the TCE that has been allowed to migrate outward and no public notification has been made.

There is concern for our neighbors who drink well water, have basements and work or live near sinkholes. The potential area impacted contains schools, daycares, places of work and thousands of private residences."

In the meantime, neighbors nearby say they are concerned about their well water.

"It sounds like what my neighbor told me about," a local homeowner who did not want to be identified said. "She has a water purifier system. She was told about this years ago. But I don't have that system ... I didn't know about it."

The homeowner tells KY3 she plans to get her water tested next week.