Kirk and Kathy Leszczynski recently poured money into renovating their 120-year-old Ballston Spa home with new flooring and airtight insulation.
“I made it very insulated because we were expecting grandchildren,” said Kirk Leszczynski, 45, who has lived at the Union Street home for 11 years. “I wanted them to be safe, warm and not have concerns about wildlife getting in, and things of that nature.”
Next week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency will test the air in his property for cancer-causing chemicals released at the nearby Rickett’s Dry Cleaning site, and now Kirk Leszczynski thinks he may have made his home more hazardous — and he’s concerned for the health of his two grandchildren.
“We had a dog die of mysterious cancer tumors,” he said. “She was an indoor dog; she was only 7 years old. I don’t want the same thing to happen to my grandchildren.”
His is one of up to 60 homes the EPA could be testing after the agency’s discovery in August of contaminants at 2017 Doubleday Ave., or Route 50, where the dry cleaning site operated for decades before closing in 2014. Leszczynski was one of about 100 residents to attend an informational meeting Monday night at the Ballston Spa Elks Lodge, during which EPA representatives told residents that older homes with poor insulation could be at a lower risk of contamination because of the increased airflow.
“In retrospect, it may not have been a good thing,” Leszczynski said. “We are warmer now, but we also don’t have the fresh air flowing through the basement like we used to.”
Leszczynski said he was happy, however, with the EPA’s response.
“So far, it sounds like they have a sense of urgency,” he said.
The EPA’s testing found chloroform, trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PERC), vinyl chloride, benzene and naphthalene at levels above EPA health benchmarks, which are all known or possible carcinogens — a topic many residents had questions about.
“A number of these chemicals are linked to cancers, mainly kidney and liver cancers,” explained Nick Mazziotta, a human health risk assessor with the EPA.
The contaminants may have reached groundwater that flows southeast and under homes in the neighborhood across Route 50 from the old dry cleaning site, which includes homes on Union Street, part of Saratoga Avenue and North High Street, according to a fact sheet shared with residents.
Don Graham, the project’s on-scene coordinator for the EPA, said several homes on East North Street and Park Street, directly behind the old dry cleaner, will be tested first, and if elevated levels of air intrusion are found, the testing will be brought to other homes.
“We draw a line in the sand,” he said. “If that line’s clean, we don’t go beyond the line. If it’s dirty, we keep going.”
Graham said the contamination at the site could have resulted from the high volume of business done there and the chemicals used in the process.
“This one employed 60 people,” he said. “It’s a very large operation and it was there for many, many years.”
Poppet Sanderson, 57, who moved to a home on North High Street within the test area in May of last year, asked about any immediate health symptoms that could result. She learned that the chemicals in question can cause rashes and nerve damage -- which can cause tingling in the face or numbness in the hands -- dizziness, drowsiness and headaches.
She said she was glad the EPA was doing the testing.
“I’m going to wait and see what they say,” she said. “Then I’ll worry.”
Diane Rademacher, who owns a dental practice at 7 Union St., said she had a couple of patients ask her if the village water was OK to drink after the air contamination was reported by media outlets last week. Before Monday’s meeting, during which Mayor John Romano assured her that the water supply was not affected, she had switched to using bottled water anytime her patients needed to rinse.|
She said she was pleased with the EPA’s response to the situation, but wished the state Department of Environmental Conservation had been in attendance as well to answer questions about the former dry cleaning site.
“I have a lot of questions — if it’s going to be cleaned up, when it’s going to be cleaned up,” she said.
Graham, the project’s on-scene coordinator for the EPA, said it was too early to tell who would be involved in any on-site cleanup — either the EPA or the state DEC. Mayor Romano said he agreed with residents that the site “absolutely needs to be cleaned up.”
“How or who? I don’t know, but I will give you this pledge,” he said. “I will work with our elected state officials and push as hard as I possibly can to try to get action taken at this site.”
He also encouraged all homeowners contacted by the DEC about the possible contamination to get the testing done.
“It’s voluntary, but I would urge people to take a hard look,” he said.
The testing will entail collecting air from the soil beneath the homes, which involves drilling a hole through the basement floor and installing a small metal tube; and from the basements and the first floors using stainless steel canisters, Graham said.
If contamination is found, the EPA will assist property owners in installing systems that stop contaminated vapors from entering the structures, which would be installed and maintained by the EPA at no cost to the property owners. He said results for residences sampled first could be available in early March.
“We install a radon system,” Graham said. “That’s oversimplifying it, but that’s what we do. It’s designed to circumvent the air from going into the house, and we off-gas it above the roofline of the house, where it dissipates.”