NAPLES, Italy — Some American families living in Casal di Principe were forced to move from their homes because traces of the volatile organic compound PCE — a chemical used for cleaning solvents — were found in their tap water, Navy officials said Friday.

The water tested positive for tetrachloroethene (perchloroethene), or PCE, at "unacceptable levels in that they cannot be mitigated by the use of bottled water," Cmdr. Jeff McAtee, a spokesman for the Naples public health evaluation, said in an e-mail. He did not provide the actual levels of the chemical found in the water.

In July, after traces of bacteria turned up in residents’ tap water, Navy officials recommended that all personnel who live off-base in the Naples region use bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing teeth, regardless of whether homes are serviced by well water or city water. But because PCE is hazardous to inhale, the Navy required the affected families in Casal di Principe to move, McAtee said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines VOCs as gases from certain solids or liquids that include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects, according to the agency’s Web site.

VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products. They include paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers and photographic solutions.

In addition to moving families from the affected homes, the Navy temporarily has stopped Americans from signing new rental leases in three targeted zones around Naples. The "New Lease Suspension Zones," as they are called, were created because "evidence keeps coming back" that prompted officials to take the precautionary step to limit the number of Americans who live there, McAtee said. He would not define "evidence" or provide examples.

"It’s a prudent course to stop more people from moving in as long as there are questions," he said in a telephone interview.

Roughly 300 families live in the targeted zones, which include the towns of Villa Literno, Casal di Principe, Marcianise and Arzano. However, no families — apart for those in the 14 homes — are being required to move.

"[S]ampling results for other houses already tested in Phase I from these zones are different (from the 14 homes) and do not represent an unacceptable risk, which cannot be mitigated through measures already implemented, such as bottled water," McAtee wrote.

Though the suspension of new leases in the zones is temporary, officials anticipate it will be in effect for at least a year, or "until health risks associated with air, soil, soil gas and water are better defined," McAtee wrote.

Because of the technical nature of the health evaluation, McAtee said, Navy leaders are limiting direct access to subject-matter experts. Queries are submitted and answered in writing through public affairs officials.

The Navy also recently began requiring landlords to supply bottled water to renters as a condition of all new leases. In late September, the Navy started handing out bottled water to military and civilian employees living off base after getting the authorization to buy $144,000 worth of water. Each person is entitled to four liters of water per day.

The Navy’s distribution program was designed to be a "temporary stop-gap measure until we got certain other measures in place which we are now doing," McAtee wrote.

For newly leased properties, the responsibility has fallen to the landlords.

"[Naval Support Activity] Naples feels its personnel living in the community has a right to expect clean, safe water to drink at homes leased through NSA Housing, and that landlords have an obligation to provide it, just as they provide other services and amenities dealing with health and safety," McAtee wrote.

As part of its first phase of the long-term public health analysis started in February, the Navy sampled water and soil at 166 off-base homes. In addition to the VOCs, of those homes sampled, nearly one-third indicated the presence of bacteria, including total and fecal coliform. The Navy launched the health assessment following concerns over the decades-long trash crisis in Naples, which as resulted in illegal burning and dumping, and burying of toxic materials.

Families who live within the zones and wish to talk with medical/health professionals about the possible risks involved are urged to call the Navy’s Hospital Preventive Medicine team at DSN 629-6071.

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