Jackson, Wyo., is best known for Jackson Hole, an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise with whitewater rafting, hiking, biking, fishing and more. Recently, however, a new concern has been raised about the environment, particularly in the Karns Meadow area.
Benzene has been discovered in a municipal well, a drinking water supply for Jackson. In a routine sampling that occurs once every three years, the amount of benzene found exceeded more than three times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) detection level that signals a need for more frequent testing.
Although the benzene was detected last July, the EPA didn’t notify the town until December. The agency warns that regular consumption of benzene-contaminated products can cause anemia and significantly increase the risk of developing cancer. But town officials say there’s no reason to be worried.
“Our water is fine,” said John Ryan, water utility manager. “It’s healthy, and it’s way below any limits. They just want us to monitor [the benzene] and make sure it’s gone.”
According to Ryan, in all of his 27 years at the Jackson utility, he has never experienced benzene found in the drinking water supply, and hoped that the reading was an error. “According to the state geologist,” Ryan said, “he doesn’t see how we could have possibly got [benzene] into the well, and he thinks there was a mistake made when we took the samples or even at the laboratory.”
The “healthy” water, drawn from a well at a depth of 180 feet, now has to be tested every quarter starting with the New Year.
This may be a first for benzene detection in Jackson’s drinking water, but it is a familiar chemical in shallow groundwater left behind from the town’s old gas tanks. Benzene plumes have been confirmed under an empty lot near the Broadway-Milward intersection, per Teton Conservation District Water Resource Specialist Carlin Girard.
Benzene, a key ingredient in gasoline, is widely used in a number of industries and products, increasing the danger of exposure particularly for those who work in close proximity to the chemical. Exposure to benzene has been linked to life-threatening diseases including Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and Aplastic Anemia.