Contaminated water has led to years of illness, unanswered questions for Renville County woman

OLIVIA -- Darlene Konz moved to her farm home near Beaver Creek in Renville County in 1989. Her symptoms followed: Swollen muscles, back spasms, joint pain and fatigue. She made her first trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in 1994. Her litany o...

OLIVIA -- Darlene Konz moved to her farm home near Beaver Creek in Renville County in 1989.

Her symptoms followed: Swollen muscles, back spasms, joint pain and fatigue.

She made her first trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in 1994. Her litany of troubles grew to include memory loss, liver dysfunction and respiratory ailments.

Her thyroid was removed in 2002, the year the family's go-lden re-triever was also diagnosed with thyroid disease. Troubled also by the dead mice she started finding in the home, Konz called the local public health office. Was something going on in her home?

Tests by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in September 2003 determined that her domestic well was contaminated by polyvinyl chloride -- more commonly referred to as PVC. The concentrations found in subsequent tests often topped 0.2 parts per billion, which is the health risk level established by the state for drinking water.


"You can't touch it, you can't smell it, you can't see it,'' said Konz of the vinyl chloride that she blames for her health woes.

Konz, 57, hasn't worked since 2003. She quit smoking and has been drinking only bottled water since her malaise was determined, but her health problems persist. She suffers chronic fatigue and pain from fibromyalgia, she said.

But until her water was tested in 2003, every time she turned on the tap for a drink of water, to bathe or wash a load of clothes, vinyl chloride evaporated as an invisible gas into her home.

Konz believes the source of the contamination is the Renville County Landfill. It is located just over one mile north of her home as the crow flies.

Four years and some $200,000 later, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency believes otherwise. A report released this month by the MPCA and Minnesota Department of Health determined that the likely source of the contamination was the PVC piping in Konz's own well.

The well is believed to have been installed in 1974 by an unlicensed well driller, said Craig Schafer of the MPCA's Marshall office.

Schafer said he too initially suspected the landfill as the source. He took on the investigation out of concern that other residential wells in the area could be at risk too.

Today, he said, "it is very unlikely that the landfill is the source.''


The MPCA developed four monitoring wells on the Konz property and has tested their water for two years. Only one of the wells -- the one located within a few feet of the contaminated well -- has ever shown detectable levels of vinyl chloride.

Tests of the water in a dozen private wells in the area also showed no detectable levels of vinyl chloride.

Schafer and other investigators are confident they know why the Konz well was contaminated. The pipe installed by the unlicensed driller was a type of PVC pipe that has been banned since 1977. The manufacturing process for this pre-1977 pipe resulted in a material that would leach vinyl chloride in water, Schafer said.

Laboratory tests of the PVC piping from the Konz well confirmed it. The MPCA pulled the well piping and submitted it to a laboratory. Its immersion in water showed that it readily leached vinyl chloride.

When the contamination was discovered, the MPCA provided Konz with a filtering system to remove the vinyl chloride. It has since installed a new, steel-piped well to replace her contaminated well.

Testing of the "leachate" collected at the Renville County Landfill and a shallow aquifer there show detectible levels of vinyl chloride. That's not uncommon at landfills across the state, according to the report by the MPCA and Minnesota Department of Health.

The landfill's contaminated, shallow aquifer moves its water on an upward gradient toward the West Fork of Beaver Creek, Schafer said. It is very unlikely that this water could be contaminating the far deeper aquifer by the Konz home, he said.

He also noted that testing of the Konz well showed no other types of contaminants. When landfills are the source of contamination, there is usually a "cocktail'' of contaminants in the plume, he explained.


Konz remains concerned. She and neighbors of the landfill will be asking the MPCA at a meeting today in Willmar not to close the monitoring wells on her property. They also want the MPCA to conduct further testing of the landfill.

Konz said her two children, now in their 30s and living elsewhere, have not experienced any health problems. But she said the effects of vinyl chloride can show themselves many years after the exposure. "Now I'm afraid of what is going to happen to my children.''

Her golden retriever died this year of lymphoma at age 13.

Although her new well shows no contamination for vinyl chloride, Konz continues to drink only bottled water. "I'm afraid,'' she said.

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