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Toxic Vapor Discovered In Homes Near Fort Gillem

Susan Morgan sits on the porch of her home near Fort Gillem. Her home tested positive for hazardous chemicals.
Susan Morgan sits on the porch of her home near Fort Gillem. Her home tested positive for hazardous chemicals.
Credit Evan Jang / WABE

Toxic vapor has been found in dozens of homes near Fort Gillem, a former U.S. Army Base in Clayton County. The Army discovered the vapor during testing tied to redevelopment at Fort Gillem.

Susan Morgan lives in a brick one-story home about a mile from Fort Gillem. Morgan was recently told her house contains hazardous chemicals that seeped into groundwater beneath her home.

“I’m concerned about me having my down syndrome brother-in-law, my pregnant daughter here … I’m very concerned about the water, the air that we’re breathing, and I’m a high blood pressure patient and water is a must for me.”

Morgan was told her drinking water is fine, but she’s not taking any chances.

“We drink plenty of bottled water … and I pre-boil my water before I use it for cooking.”

Morgan also said she has health issues, which could be related to the harmful air.

“Late at night, I feel like I just can’t breathe sometimes,” said Morgan.

Morgan said as a result of the toxic vapor she’s currently looking for a new home. The state said so far nearly 40 homes have been tested and 29 results have come back. So far, 26 homes contain chemicals that are hazardous to human health such as Benzene and Trichloroethylene. Bert Langley is director of compliance for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. He said prior to closing, Fort Gillem served as an Army maintenance facility, and the chemicals, which entered the homes through groundwater, are those commonly used to strip metal.

“But in the early years we weren’t really aware of the potential dangers they could pose and the common method of disposing of them was to put them in holes in the ground, and that’s what apparently occurred at a number of places at Fort Gillem.”

Langley said with residents’ permission the Army will install air ventilation systems in the 26 homes with concerning chemical levels. He said those systems are supposed to eliminate or greatly reduce any risk. If higher levels are found in any of the other homes, Langley says the Army will pay for residents to relocate while larger mitigation efforts are undertaken.

Approximately 200 homes will undergo testing. WABE contacted the Army but officials did not respond to WABE by deadline.

UPDATE:

The U.S. Army released the following statement to WABE on Sept. 15:

The U.S. Army is engaged in a complex and technical study to assess whether vapors from groundwater pollutants leaving Fort Gillem have impacted the surrounding community.  The U.S. Army has been and continues to be in frequent contact with GA environmental regulators, EPA, and the community to assess the results of ongoing sampling.