By Eric Fleischauer
DAILY Staff Writer
DAILY Staff Writer
What angers Dykes, Harris and Sengstacke is something else they have in common. ADEM never told them the benzene was encroaching on their property.
That fact also angers Harry Terry.
His 5-year-old daughter, Haley, has leukemia, which is among the cancers linked to benzene exposure.
ADEM first told him in late 2004, after his daughter was diagnosed, that the chemical had seeped into his underground soil. ADEM discovered the leak in 1999, the year Haley Terry was born.
No one knows whether benzene caused Haley Terry's leukemia. Scientists do know that benzene is so toxic that even the small amounts that rise from groundwater into the air and surface soil can be deadly. Gaps in foundations and above crawl spaces permit benzene gas to accumulate in buildings.
Also known: Despite its knowledge of the risk posed by benzene-tainted groundwater, ADEM's practice is to notify only those nearby residents who obtain their drinking water from a well.
"We don't want to unduly alarm people," said Sonja Massey, chief of the groundwater branch of ADEM's water division.
That explanation does not satisfy Harry Terry.
"They don't have to put up yellow tape around a house saying 'Caution: Benzene.' I understand that," he said. "Just send me a letter or put a note on my door."
The health risks benzene poses are frightening.
The extent of benzene's toxicity is reflected in drinking water standards set by the EPA. Above the level of five parts benzene to a billion parts water, benzene poses a health risk.
Imagine an Olympic-size swimming pool filled with drinking water. Five teaspoons of benzene would make the entire pool toxic.
Benzene that makes its way to groundwater is not always content to stay underground. Some of it enters the surface soil. Some enters the air. Because skin and lung tissue absorb benzene, small amounts can be deadly.
The public has a right to know about danger under their feet, no excuses ADEM.