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A crew drilled three 200-foot test wells in downtown Baraboo this week to determine the extent of contamination related to a local dry cleaning business. Badger Cleaners, located at 616 Oak St. in Baraboo, is part of an investigation into soil and groundwater contamination from the dry-cleaning compound tetrachloroethylene.

Project manager Chris Hatfield from the consulting service Stantec said the dry cleaning business has hired the company to investigate the matter. The process is being overseen by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The dry cleaning business is the source of a historic release of solvents into the soil that have made their way into the groundwater.

“It means they had slow releases over time,” Hatfield said, adding that there was no record of a spill or other incident at the site.

Dave Bieno, owner of Badger Cleaners since 2005, said the business has been open for at least 75 years.

“It could have been from years ago,” he said of the contamination, adding that regulations related to storage and disposal of dry-cleaning compounds haven’t always been in effect.

In 2008, the DNR wanted to come in and test, installing the monitoring wells at Badger Cleaners, Bieno said.

Stantec hired Ground Source as a subcontractor to install the wells.

One well was drilled on Fourth Street in front of Baraboo’s City Hall, and two other wells were installed in the back alley adjacent to Badger Cleaners.

The next step is “really dependent upon how easily you can figure out the extent of (the contamination),” Hatfield said. “ … The investigation is under way at the moment to determine, and it’s a pretty standard process of dry cleaners.”

Hatfield said hundreds of dry cleaning businesses throughout the state have been found to be sources of such contamination, and many are making use of a state reimbursement program to investigate and clean up their sites.

He said Badger Cleaners’ initial testing occurred in 2008.

Workers have drilled the wells to find the outer reaches of contamination, and investigators then will determine what steps, if any, must be taken to clean things up.

Mike Schmoller, a hydrogeologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Remediation and Redevelopment Program, said the substance tetrachloroethylene, a chlorinated compound used for cleaning clothes, is a common source of contamination at old dry cleaning sites.

The substance is sometimes called perchlorethylene, or “perc,” he said.

“At this particular site, there is soil and groundwater contamination from perc,” Schmoller said.

There is a “significant” level of soil contamination at the business and at least some in the shallow groundwater, though it is well above enforcement standards, Schmoller said.

“Once you find contamination shallow, these compounds have a tendency to move,” he said.

The three test wells installed this week were about 200 feet deep, he said, 150 feet deeper than previous monitoring wells installed at the site.

Remediation efforts could include excavating and removing contaminated soil and treating groundwater.

“Sometimes just plain digging them out is the way to go,” Schmoller said.

He said the levels of substances in the soil and groundwater could potentially be hazardous to humans, but currently there is no known exposure route.

“Chances of anybody being exposed to that right now seem pretty slim,” Schmoller said.

Still, it’s important to clean up sites that need it, he said.

The testing and possible remediation efforts are being funded in part by the site’s participation in the Dry Cleaner Environmental Response Fund Program, which closed to new applicants in 2008. The fund, overseen by the DNR, “reimburses the investigation and cleanup costs of contamination caused by dry-cleaning chemical discharges,” according to its web page on the DNR site.

“This is a fund that was set up by the dry cleaners themselves,” Bieno said. “Before the fund was set up, back in the ’80s and ’70s, contamination wasn’t even monitored. Dry cleaners were progressive and set this fund up and took it on their own hands to help with the DNR to help it get cleaned up.”

Portage Cleaners, which Bieno also owns, had monitoring wells installed about six years ago and required no remediation efforts, he said.

The next step will be to determine whether any cleanup is required in Baraboo.

“We are working hand-in-hand with the DNR,” Bieno said.

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Reporter for Capital Newspapers