Hazardous fume concern closes Franklin strip of stores

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Potentially dangerous chemicals underground is forcing businesses in downtown Franklin to close. 

The store closures are due to a toxic chemical dating back to the 1940s was found in the air. Those levels are said to be seven and a half times what they should be. 

"The number for PCE over which action would be needed is 80," said Kim Ethridge of the MDEQ. "One of the indoor air samples that we got back right at the end of February was 600."

Those levels are toxic when you're talking about PERC the shortened name for a dry cleaning chemical. 

"It is a suspected carcinogen," said Ethridge.

Mood disorders and kidney problems are on the laundry list of side effects. Etheridge with the MDEQ says they found the high levels inside the Franklin business plaza causing the owners and employees to evacuate.

"We are optimistic that they may open within two weeks," Ethridge said. "Hopefully sooner."

The building was built in the 1920s and was a gas station, then dry-cleaners. Soil samples haven't shown any issues in the past but this week in the crawl space inside a trapped door, they believe they found the culprits for the toxins. 

"We opened up the trap door, if you will and we found a 4-foot by 2-foot tank right there," Ethridge said. "And it showed some volatile levels when we put a meter down to it."

They think it's PERC possibly stored there since the 1950s. It's the talk of the town where small businesses line the streets. 

The MDEQ says it's contained so other businesses are open for now. Etheridge says whenever you're dealing with a potential combustible it's a concern. 

"If did it exceed emergency levels we would establish an evacuation zone," she said. "Luckily the fire department is right across the street."

But there is no way to know how long the employees and their customers have been breathing the toxins. 

"Several years ago we looked at only soil and groundwater and how those risks could affect people in the environment," Ethridge said. "Now we know to look at indoor air."