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Workers Warned Of Air Quality Problems At Borg

According to letter BorgWarner sent to employees, the company has identified immediate actions in response to the indoor air sample results.

By David Howell


WATER VALLEY – A year has passed since the decades old contamination in Water Valley from the former Colt Industries/Holley Carburetor facility in Water Valley attracted renewed scrutiny from the Mississippi Department of Environ-mental Quality and now a new wrinkle has surfaced. 

Earlier this month, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) released results from an indoor air study at BorgWarner that indicates that levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) were found to be above screening levels in several indoor areas inside the plant. TCE is a known carcinogen and causes toxic effects to the kidneys, central nervous system, liver, immune system, male reproductive system and a developing fetus.

The report followed indoor air sampling taken on January 19 at 15 locations in both administrative and manufacturing areas inside the building. Multiple samples showed TCE to be above the screening level, which are values used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and MDEQ to identify where an action may be necessary to protect public health and/or the environment, according to the MDEQ report. 

The agency reported that a second round of air sampling at the facility was conducted last week. The results have not been posted at presstime.

In the report, MDEQ explained that sampling results indicate that TCE may be entering the facility in the form of a gas from contaminated groundwater and soil under the building, a process known as vapor intrusion. 

Vapor intrusion was the trigger cited in last year’s renewed scrutiny by the MDEQ. Speaking during a public hearing last March, MDEQ Director Gary Rikard identified a contaminated area defined as a plume that extends northwest toward O’Tuckolofa Creek from the original spill site at the plant. The affected area includes an estimated 28 residences and 11 commercial buildings on portions of South Main Street, Frostland Drive and Champion Circle. The contaminated area also includes the county-owned hospital and nursing home and Department of Health building on South Main. 

In a second public hearing last April hosted by MDEQ, the agency reported there was no immediate health threat from the contamination based on February testing of the soil and water from samples taken in the plume.  Rikard also reported a 10-year remediation plan will be implemented to reduce the levels of TCE in the soil and ground water to reduce the levels of TCE to a level that is non-detectable or below the agency’s screening level.

MDEQ also reported that the release of the TCE is believed to have occurred in the late 1980s at the plant. 


Issues Letter To Employees

BorgWarner plant manager Ray Robertson notified employees of the potential threat in a letter after the MDEQ  report was released this month. In the letter, Robertson explained that environmental work in and around the plant is underway by Coltec, with oversight by MDEQ. BorgWarner purchased the plant in 1996 from Coltec, the parent company of the former Holley Carburetor.

The letter identified immediate actions in response to the indoor air sample results may include temporary access restrictions in areas of the plant that exceed action levels, sealing any obvious cracks, joints or drain pipes in rooms of concern, adjusting the HVAC to increase air exchanges and create positive pressure inside the building and sub-slab depressurization in the former degreaser area where TCE was used. 

Robertson explained that the air samples were taken by using 24-hour air sampling canisters. He reported in the letter that samples were taken from beneath the building’s slab at several locations to help find areas of the TCE soil contamination from the historical uses of degreasers.

Robertson also told employees in the letter that Coltec and BorgWarner are working on long-term measures that will be put in place, a discussion that also includes input from MDEQ.

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