Toxic vapor discovery confirmed at Franklin strip mall

Image 1 of 2

A Franklin Village strip mall remains closed for a toxic fume that was discovered at the end of February.

Imminent danger. those were the words used by the Department of Environmental Quality. Tests found high level of toxins in the air inside these stores. 

One store owner said she is closing her business for good and is worried that her staff 's health may in danger. 

"I was surprised what I learned," said Jayne Depotter, owner of Fritz and Friends. "I haven't digested it yet."

Depotter opened her art business years ago. Last week she and others in the strip mall were forced to close temporarily after vapor tests found high levels of toxins likely seeping into the air from tanks buried underground. The tanks contained dry cleaning chemicals and other contaminants dating back to village's first gas station and dry cleaner back in the 1930s. 

"We now just got the sample results today that do verify there is PCE in that tank," said Kim Ethridge from MDEQ. MDEQ and contractors are working to seal off the leak with plastic and remove the tanks. 

Meanwhile, with Depotter saying the fate of her store has also been sealed, she went to Franklin Village Hall meeting Monday looking to hold someone accountable. Then she learned how far back this issue goes -- in 2010 ground and soil samples from the DEQ showed contamination. 

"I am so upset now. Because how many years ago is that, that we have been exposed to these chemicals?" she said. "To have known something since 2010 and why something is not communicated from that report to the village, to me is shocking."

So all this time, the department waited for resources to do further testing. 

That came by way of vapor testing this month which uncovered vapors known to cause cancer and birth defects more than 600 times the safe level. 

"I've got young girls for teachers and hearing some of the things and the problems are terrifying," she said.

Even with air cleaning done so far, the problem persists. 

"I think the number we have in our studio for one of the chemicals is 620-something, and the take action number is 80 something," Depotter said.

As far as that accountability, no one is sure who is to blame. But the plan now is to clean up what they can and have businesses that chose to reopen do so in the next one to three weeks - depending on what is buried underground. 

The DEQ says while this is one of the first situations like this they've encountered, they are pretty sure it’s not unique. 

They said it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say there could be thousands of sites just like this in need of testing all over the state.