Region 8

700 South 1600 East PCE Plume

site location map Site Type: Final NPL
City: Salt Lake City
County: Salt Lake
Street Address: Intersection of 700 South & 1600 East
ZIP Code: 84102
EPA ID: UTD981548985
SSID: 082R
Site Aliases: Mount Olivet Cemetery Plume, Old Dump/Fill Site, VA Hospital PCE Plume
Congressional District: 2

What's New?

Updated February 2015

In January 2015, field crews began sampling in the East Side Springs area. Residents may notice drilling trucks and other vehicles along the city roads that are involved in this effort. Several contractors are performing the sampling. Representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are available for residents who may have questions or concerns. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Utah Department of Environmental Quality (UDEQ) staff may also be contacted. You may find the Frequently Asked Questions helpful.

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Site Description

area map

The 700 South 1600 East PCE Plume site is located on the east side bench in Salt Lake City, Utah. The plume is located generally within the area bounded by 500 South and Michigan Avenue and between Guardsman Way and 1100 East. Tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or perc and abbreviated to PCE) contamination was first detected in this area in the 1990s during routine sampling of the Mount Olivet Cemetery irrigation well. This detection led to the discovery of the 700 South 1600 East PCE Plume site (formerly known as the Mount Olivet Cemetery Plume) and to several subsequent investigations. Groundwater concentrations in monitoring wells have reached as high as 320 μg/L (micrograms per liter) in some areas of the plume. The national drinking water standard for PCE is 5.0 μg/L.

A 2004 site investigation detected PCE in a Salt Lake City municipal drinking water well at a concentration of 2.23 μg/L. There is some evidence suggesting that PCE levels may continue to increase in this well over time. As a precautionary measure, Salt Lake City Public Utilities has removed the well from service.

In 2010, PCE was also discovered in several residential springs located downgradient of the plume in the area of East Side Springs. The May 2012 Site Investigation Analytical Results Report documented the presence of PCE in the springs and shallow groundwater and concluded that the contamination was likely hydraulically connected to the 700 South 1600 East PCE plume. The full aerial extent of the plume is unknown, but it is currently estimated to be approximately 300 acres. Left uncontrolled, the 700 South 1600 East PCE Plume could continue to migrate, putting additional public water supplies and residents at risk.

A former dry-cleaning facility at the nearby Salt Lake City VA Medical Center (VAMC) currently is the only identified source of PCE in the area for groundwater beneath the site.

Two operable units have been delineated for this site. The first is Accelerated Operable Unit 1 (AOU1), located east of the intersection of 1300 East and 800 South, in Salt Lake City, and includes the East Side Springs area. The AOU1 boundaries are defined between 800 South and Michigan Avenue and 1100 East and 1300 East.

The second is the Site-wide Operable Unit, which is the overall PCE groundwater plume originating from former activities in Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Building 7.

Map of Area of Investigation

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Site Risk

Media Affected Contaminants Suspected Source of Contamination
surface water, groundwater and soils or soil vapors volatile organic compounds (VOCs), primarily tetrachloroethylene (PCE) historic dry cleaning operation at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City

Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) is a manufactured chemical that is widely used for dry cleaning of fabrics and for metal degreasing. Exposure to PCE could pose a threat to human health and the environment. Exposure to very high concentrations of PCE can cause dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness and death. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined that PCE may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen.

In addition to drinking water concerns at the site, PCE in groundwater evaporates easily, allowing vapors to move through the soil and into buildings through basement foundations. Because buildings are not air tight, vapors may enter through cracks in the foundation, gaps around pipes, and other openings. In extreme cases, the vapors may accumulate in homes and buildings to levels that may pose acute health effects (e.g., nausea), or aesthetic problems (e.g., odors). Typically, however, chemical concentrations are low or, depending on site-specific conditions, vapors may not be present at detectable concentrations. In residences with low concentrations, chemical exposures over many years may raise the lifetime risk of cancer or chronic disease.

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Cleanup Progress

The Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS) that is typically the first phase of the Superfund process has started at 700 South 1600 East. During the RI/FS, the nature and extent of contamination at the site is determined and alternatives are developed to address that contamination.

On December 31, 2014, the VA submitted the draft Remedial Investigation Work Plan (RIWP) for AOU1. This document is currently under review by the regulatory agencies.

Sampling of 11 wells on the 700 S 1600 E site was performed by VA and EPA in late June/early July 2014. The sampling, performed on six wells installed by EPA and another five previously existing wells, provided water quality and water level information. Results of the sampling were similar to previous analyses and confirmed there were no outlier or previously undetected contaminant levels.

A Site Inspection Analytical Results Report was completed at the East Side Springs site in May 2012. Results from that report are summarized below and were used to support listing of the site on the National Priorities List.

Soil Exposure Pathway – Two soil samples were collected to evaluate potential impacts to soils surrounding the residential springs. This sampling was completed to address the concern that contamination found in the springs may infiltrate nearby soils, creating a potential exposure risk to residents with springs in their backyards. Soil samples were analyzed for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and there were no detections for VOCs in soil samples collected from the site. Results indicate that the soil exposure is not a threat to human health or the environment at this time.

Groundwater Migration Pathway – Ten groundwater samples were collected in order to evaluate the migration of VOCs and the threat to municipal drinking water sources. Three samples were taken from existing monitoring wells (established during the 700 South 1600 East PCE Plume investigation), and two samples were taken from municipal drinking water sources (Liberty Park drinking water fountain and the Eighth South Well). The remaining five samples were taken from shallow groundwater boreholes near the residential springs. Groundwater samples were analyzed for low/medium VOCs. PCE was detected in a shallow monitoring well at 150 μg/L and in a deep monitoring well at 12 μg/L. No VOCs were detected in either of the municipal drinking water sources sampled, but based on direction of groundwater flow they are at risk of becoming contaminated. PCE and trichloroethylene (TCE) were detected in several shallow ground boreholes at concentrations as high as 8.0 μg/L and 12.0 μg/L, respectively. According to EPA guidance, concentrations for PCE and TCE in groundwater as low as 5.0 μg/L may present a risk to nearby residences through vapor intrusion.

Surface Water Migration Pathway – Three surface water samples were collected from residential springs to evaluate potential exposures to residents and ecological receptors. Surface water samples were analyzed for low/medium VOCs. PCE was detected in two surface water samples at concentrations of 3.7 μg/L to 20.0 μg/L. TCE was detected in one surface water sample at a concentration of 4.6 μg/L. Spring water is not believed to be used as a drinking water source, and there was no visual evidence that the springs support any population of ecological receptors or sensitive environments. Children or adults may be at risk for exposure to PCE through absorption resulting from contact with the spring water.

Air Migration Pathway – No air samples were collected as part of this investigation. Much of the site is capped with concrete and asphalt; therefore, the threat of exposure from ambient outdoor air is believed to be relatively low.

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Community Involvement

Community involvement plays an important role in the Superfund process. EPA uses a number of different tools and resources to promote effective, ongoing, meaningful community involvement. The goals of the Superfund community involvement are to:

  • Keep communities affected by sites informed throughout the cleanup process.
  • Provide opportunities for communities to comment and offer their input about the site cleanup plans.
  • Facilitate the resolution of community issues tied to a site.

Initial public meetings addressing the addition of the 700 South 1600 East site to EPA’s National Priorities List (NPL) were held in mid-March 2014 and September 2014. Staff from the VA, EPA and UDEQ presented site information—and groundwater, soil and air quality testing/cleanup procedures—to nearly 100 attendees in anticipation of planned remediation activities.

The Community Involvement Plan (CIP), written collaboratively by the VA, EPA and UDEQ, was completed in June 2014. Community involvement activities outlined in the CIP are intended to ensure that residents are fully informed of actions at the site, and are given the opportunity to participate in remedial action decisions.

EPA will provide information about community involvement events and activities as it becomes available.

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EPA places a high priority on land reuse as part of its Superfund response program mission. The agency tries to select cleanup options that encourage and support future use of a site. EPA uses two fundamental methods to facilitate reuse of Superfund sites:

  • Exploring future uses before the cleanup remedy is implemented, an approach that gives the Agency the best chance of designing cleanup remedies to support the likely future use of a site.
  • Working with landowners and communities to remove barriers not considered necessary for the protection of human health or the environment at those sites where remedies are already in place.

The reasonably anticipated future land use is determined during the remedial investigation and feasibility study process working with local government, the community and property owner. This information is considered during the development and selection of the remedy or remedies for a site.

Since the 700 South 1600 East PCE Plume site is located within Salt Lake City, much of the site is already in continued use as residential and commercial properties.

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Land Use Controls and Other Institutional Controls

Land use controls are the most common type of institutional control (IC). ICs are administrative or legal controls that help reduce the likelihood for human exposure to contamination. ICs can also help protect the integrity of the remedy. Examples of ICs are:

  • Zoning ordinances.
  • Environmental covenants.
  • Deed notices.
  • Well-drilling restrictions.
  • Building permits.
  • Informational advisories.

Land use controls and other institutional controls are developed as components of the selected remedy or remedies, as needed, and typically documented in the Record of Decision. The need for ICs will be considered and developed as investigations proceed at this site.

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Five-Year Reviews

EPA or the lead agency conducts five-year reviews following the start of a Superfund cleanup when contamination is left on the site. These reviews are repeated every five years. We use these reviews to determine:

  • How the remedy is working.
  • If the remedy remains protective of human health and the environment.

Remedial action has not begun, therefore five-year reviews are not yet required at this site.

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Site Documents

You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA’s About PDF page to learn more.

Community Involvement Plan, June 2014

National Priorities List, Final Rule No. 56, May 24, 2013

ATSDR Consult Letter, May 2012

Site Investigation Analytical Results Report, May 2012

Preliminary Assessment Report, July 2011

Site Investigation Analytical Results Report, November 2000

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. How did this happen?

The exact source of the dry cleaning solvent (i.e., perchloroethylene) contamination present in the groundwater at 700 East and 1600 South in Salt Lake City, Utah is unknown. EPA Region 8 has identified the VA as a potentially responsible party (PRP), since the VA operated a dry cleaning operation at its adjacent medical center in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Under CERCLA (the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation, and Liability Act aka Superfund), any party identified as contributing to a Superfund National Priorities List site can be held liable for the entire NPL site cleanup costs. The CERCLA remedial investigation (RI) phase initiated by the VA in 2013 will ascertain if other businesses operating in this area of Salt Lake City may have contributed to the groundwater contamination and will share in the cleanup costs for the PCE plume identified at 700 South and 1600 East.

2. How did the EPA learn about the PCE plumes in groundwater and seeps in residents' yards?

In the summer of 2010, in response to an oil spill in Red Butte Creek, sampling was conducted by Salt Lake City Public Utilities (SLCPU) to find contamination related to the spill. While no crude oil was detected, tetrachloroethylene, also known as PCE, was detected. After performing some initial sampling, the UDEQ requested EPA's assistance with conducting a further investigation.

3. What is the primary contaminant of concern?

Tetrachloroethylene (PCE), which is a synthetic chemical that is widely used for dry cleaning fabrics and for metal-degreasing operations. It is also used as a starting material (building block) for making other chemicals and is used in some consumer products. PCE is a nonflammable, colorless liquid at room temperature and has a sharp, sweet odor. Other names for PCE include perchloroethylene, perc, tetrachloroethene, perclene and perchlor.

4. This problem was identified in the 1990s, why is it just now being addressed?

We only recently discovered springs and shallow groundwater contamination further down on the hill. Prior to that, this was thought to be primarily a groundwater issue, and the city took measures to prevent exposures by removing drinking water wells from service. The discovery of the springs has changed conditions, creating new potential exposure pathways that are more difficult and costly to evaluate and manage. For that reason a more rigorous investigation is needed.

5. Is drinking water safe?

Yes. Salt Lake City routinely tests its drinking water pursuant to federal standards. The city removed the impacted drinking water well from service pending additional investigation and mitigation. In addition, the artesian fountains at Liberty Park and at 800 South and 500 East are routinely tested, and no PCE has been detected.

6. Is private well water safe to drink?

We are not aware of private wells in the area that are being used for drinking water. If you have a private well in the area that you are drinking from, it is recommended that you have your water tested for PCE and other organic compounds.

7. What happens to PCE when it gets into the environment?

Much of the PCE that gets into water and soil will evaporate into the air. However, because PCE can travel through soils quite easily, it can get into groundwater where it may persist without being broken down. If conditions are right, bacteria will break down some of it and some of the chemicals formed may also be harmful. Under some conditions, PCE may stick to the soil and stay there. It does not seem to build up in animals that live in water, such as fish, clams and oysters. We do not know if it builds up in plants grown on land.

8. How might I be exposed to PCE and how does it affect my health?

A very common example is when clothes are brought home from the dry cleaners. The sweet odor you smell is a small amount of PCE being released into the air. In addition to breathing contaminated air, you may also drink contaminated water or your skin may come in contact with the water while taking a shower. Exposure to very high concentrations of PCE can cause dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty in speaking and walking, unconsciousness and death. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that PCE may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen.

9. I’m concerned about the health risks to my family, what can I do now to make sure they are protected?

The VA has started field sampling in AOU1 to determine the potential extent of vapor intrusion and characterize concentrations of contaminants in soil gas, surface water and groundwater. You can contact the VA, EPA or UDEQ for more information about health risks in your neighborhood (see Contacts below).

10. My kids and dogs play in the spring water, are they going to get sick?

We currently know there is a potential for some health risks, but until a thorough investigation is completed we do not know the extent of the risks. This level of investigation takes place during the remedial investigation (RI). The long-term effects from inhalation (vapor intrusion) and ingestion (drinking water) at low levels are some of the most concerning issues at this site. Dermal (skin) contact for humans and pets playing in the springs is not likely a serious health concern, based on the PCE concentrations measured in the springs. Assuming some incidental ingestion, inhalation and dermal contact during play, concentrations are still within EPA’s acceptable limits.

11. I water my vegetable garden with spring water. Are my vegetables safe to eat?

This is something that will be evaluated during the RI. Studies show that plant uptake of PCE and other chlorinated solvents are negligible and do not pose a serious risk to human health. PCE is extremely volatile and much of the chemical that gets into the water or soil evaporates into the air before it has a chance to be absorbed by plant tissue.

12. Are there any indoor air concerns at this site?

Indoor air may become a concern if vapors from volatile chemicals migrate into air spaces of overlying buildings. This phenomenon is generally referred to as "vapor intrusion." Vapor intrusion is typically influenced by factors such as contaminant concentration, depth of contamination, depth to groundwater, and building construction and condition. Based on several of these factors the potential for vapor intrusion does exist at this site. The VA has started field sampling in AOU1 to characterize potential contamination.

13. Can the contamination get inside the house?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in contaminated soils and/or contaminated groundwater can emit vapors that may migrate through the soil and other air spaces of overlying buildings. This phenomenon is generally referred to as "vapor intrusion." Contaminated vapors typically enter buildings through cracks in basements and foundations, sewer lines and other openings. Vapor intrusion becomes a concern because vapors may build up to a point where the health of residents or workers in those buildings could be at risk.

14. Is there a concern for the air quality in this area?

No air samples were collected as part of this investigation. Much of the site is capped with concrete and asphalt; therefore, the threat of exposure from ambient outdoor air is believed to be relatively low.

15. Is there a medical test to show whether I have been exposed to PCE?

One way of testing for PCE exposure is to measure the amount of the chemical in the breath, much the same way breath-alcohol measurements are used. A simple blood test can be administered, but this is usually done at specialized laboratories.

16. Who is going to pay for the cleanup?

At this point VA will pay for the CERCLA (aka Superfund) groundwater investigations and cleanups at the PCE plume identified at 700 South 1600 East in Salt Lake City. If other potentially responsible parties (PRPs) are discovered, their ability to financially contribute to the investigation and cleanup of the PCE plume identified at 700 South 1600 East will need to be evaluated and adjudicated by EPA Region 8 and UDEQ.

17. Have you determined who’s responsible for the contamination?

Yes, we have identified a potentially responsible party—the former dry cleaning facility at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VA). There may be others, but as of now we haven’t identified additional PRPs. However, it’s not uncommon to discover additional PRPs during the Remedial Investigation phase, when additional resources are available to conduct a more thorough and comprehensive investigation.

18. Why did it need to go on the National Priorities List (NPL)? Can’t the EPA force the VA to clean it up without listing?

While the problem and potential risks have been identified, we do not know how widespread it is and what the actual risks are. We do know it is bigger than previously thought. Listing the site on the NPL unlocked resources needed to better determine the nature and extent of the contamination, and to address risks if and where they exist. The state and city do not have resources to investigate a problem of this scale. Listing mandates a response, thereby allowing the VA to obtain that level of resources.

19. What is the benefit of being listed on the National Priorities List (NPL)?

NPL placement ensures that a comprehensive investigation will occur, that any identified health risks will be addressed and, if necessary, that the problem will be cleaned up. The NPL provides access to technical and financial resources that are otherwise unavailable. In addition to funds for investigation and cleanup, NPL listing unlocks resources for communities to help them better understand the technical issues and guarantees that citizens will have the opportunity to provide input in the process and comment on decisions before they are made. Community involvement is ongoing throughout the investigation and cleanup.

20. Will National Priorities List (NPL) listing reduce my property values?

Based on past cleanups, EPA believes that Superfund cleanup has an overall beneficial impact on the community, including rebounding property values. Because the listing of a site on the NPL triggers a federal commitment to do cleanup work, this step reduces uncertainty and may act as a signal to real estate markets that property improvements are imminent.

21. This sounds expensive, what impact will this have on care for veterans or hospital jobs?

EPA and the VA are two different agencies with separate accounting departments receiving federal funding. EPA does not know how the VA allocates funding and tracks spending. However, there are many active federal sites on the NPL, and the responsible departments and agencies continue to administer their daily activities while investigating and conducting environmental remediation. Typically funding for these types of problems is spread out over several years, thereby reducing the financial burden and allowing them to be factored into future budget projections and requests, not unlike other infrastructure, facility and maintenance costs.

22. Who decides how the site is cleaned up?

The federal government and states have the authority under the Superfund law to make the final clean up decisions. However, Superfund law also requires that the community be given every opportunity to have meaningful input on how the cleanup is completed. The VA, EPA and UDEQ are committed to involving interested citizens, groups and local government throughout the decision process.

23. What has happened so far at the site, and what has to happen next?

Sampling for indoor air, soil gas, surface water and groundwater in the East Springs Area (AOU1) has started. Remediation options, if needed, will be evaluated after the samples are analyzed. Also see Cleanup Progress above.

24. What voice does the community have after a site is listed?

The VA and EPA will work very closely with communities and states during the cleanup process at federal sites. Some communities choose to be very involved and form a Community Advisory Group, others do not. EPA welcomes input and involvement from all stakeholders. Technical Assistance Grants and other financial resources are available to communities to encourage and facilitate meaningful involvement. For more information about community involvement at Superfund sites, visit EPA's Superfund Community Involvement site. Also, see the Community Involvement Plan.

25. How are the site boundaries determined in the National Priorities List (NPL) process?

Superfund designation includes the source of the contamination and wherever contamination may have spread and is a threat to human health and the environment. When the site is proposed, a basic area is described in the listing package, a report prepared and sent to EPA headquarters supporting why the site qualifies for placement on the National Priorities List (NPL). Boundaries are not determined until after the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) is complete. If more contamination is found later in the cleanup process the boundaries may be changed to include the new area. If less contamination is found than suspected, the boundaries may be changed to reflect the smaller size.

26. Who do I contact to get more information or if I want to be involved somehow?

You may call or email the Contacts listed below; other agencies are listed in Links below. Site documents are available at the Site Information Repositories listed below.

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Mark Aguilar
Remedial Project Manager
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8
1595 Wynkoop Street (EPR-SR)
Denver, CO 80202-1129

Vera Moritz
Remedial Project Manager
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8
1595 Wynkoop Street (EPR-SR)
Denver, CO 80202-1129

Cynthia Peterson
Community Involvement Coordinator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8
1595 Wynkoop Street (OC-PAI)
Denver, CO 80202-1129

Site Information Repositories

Salt Lake City Library, Main Branch
210 E. 400 South, Level 3
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Mon – Thur 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Fri – Sat 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sun 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

EPA Superfund Records Center
1595 Wynkoop Street
Denver, CO 80202-1129
To request copies of administrative record documents call:
800-227-8917 ext. 312-7273 (toll free Region 8 only)


D Lynne Welsh
Project Manager
George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center
500 Foothill Drive
Salt Lake City, UT 84148
801-582-1565 ext. 2021

Jill Atwood
Chief Communications Officer
George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center
500 Foothill Drive
Salt Lake City, UT 84148


Tom Daniels
Project Manager
Utah Department of Environmental Quality
195 North 1950 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-4840

Dave Allison
Community Involvement Coordinator
Utah Department of Environmental Quality
195 North 1950 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-4840

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Photo/Video Gallery

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The following links exit the site Exit

Utah Department of Environmental Quality

Utah Department of Health

Salt Lake County Health Department

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

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