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State officials: Leicester drinking well contaminated

The North Carolina Division of Environmental Quality said Friday that an unhealthy level of the chemical MTBE was discovered in a well near New Leicester Highway and South Turkey Creek Road in Leicester Tuesday. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

LEICESTER, N.C. -- Some Buncombe County residents are being told not drink water from the faucet after a drinking well was found to be contaminated with a gasoline additive.

The North Carolina Division of Environmental Quality said Friday that an unhealthy level of the chemical MTBE was discovered in a well near New Leicester Highway and South Turkey Creek Road in Leicester Tuesday.

The DEQ said, within 24 hours, all residents using that well had been notified not to drink the water and given flats of bottled water.

The owner of the well said it pipes water to an assisted living home, a beauty salon and a mobile home park. According to state authorities, the level of MTBE measured would allow residents to taste and smell a difference in the tap water.

State officials said the contaminated groundwater seeped into the well from the ground underneath the nearby Leicester General Store gas station. That property was found to be contaminated last year, according to the DEQ, but at that time regulations did not require the owner to test drinking wells in the area.

"Now if someone had complained or said they had an issue, a smell, we would have immediately sampled it but this was part of the further investigation to see if it did [have] any off-site impact," DEQ's Jan Andersen said. "No one had complained or said anything about the taste or smell in the water, so I would think that there hasn't been any kind of issue for awhile."

Andersen said there is no evidence of an ongoing leak on the property, and the contamination may be the result of a spill or a past leak.

The current operators of the gas station rent the property and are not responsible for the contamination. The owner of the underground system lives in India and state officials said he was the one who discovered the contamination on his property through routine monitoring and alerted authorities in 2015.

Officials said he has been proactive and cooperative, but there is no timeline on when the well will be safe to drink from.

Andersen said a contractor hired by the owner has taken samples at other drinking wells in the area. She expects results from those tests early next week.

Officials are telling anyone with concerns about the condition of their water to contact DEQ.

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