I have spent some time over the last couple of years working with a heavily polluted town in Central Illinois (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DePue,_Illinois). In this town, there are heavy metals in the soil of the school playground. Property values have fallen to next to nothing, which prevents the residents from leaving. And these residents, who were working-class folks in the heyday of the town before all the jobs moved out, and many of whom are Hispanic immigrants who work the surrounding farms and are too scared of the government to raise a fuss, don't have the leverage of Palo Alto's Stanford and Berkeley grads. Cleanup happens at whatever pace the responsible polluters feel like moving at, which is to say: glacially.
These sites are all over the country, and as bad as it is being described here, what's happening in Palo Alto is a sort of best case scenario as far as these things go.
 It comes from a giant pile of ore refining waste product: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-HQPY7nT2L4c/UPc4_GK-VDI/AAAAAAAABA... (short video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Au24-gdV2c0). It's hard to get an idea of the scale, but the actual pile is a good ways away from the fence the girl is standing in front of and extends a ways in both directions out of the frame (see the video). It contains 750,000 tons of zinc slag. When it rains, all the heavy metals leach out of the slag.
EDIT: I don't mean to minimize the situation in Palo Alto by any means. Just trying to put it in the bigger context. The things you're seeing: local governments doing nothing, landlords looking the other way, regular people being the ones who get hurt--are standard operating procedure for these sorts of situations.
There are occasional proposals to reinstate the Superfund tax, but the GOP has been blocking them.
That said, in the Illinois case, money is not the issue...
1,1,1-TCE used to be a household chemical; it was a component of liquid paper, of floor adhesives, and spray-on shoe polish. It was phased out due to concerns about the ozone layer. It is not classified by the EPA or the WHO IARC as carcinogenic.
Unlike 1,1,1-TCE, Trichloroethylene is apparently still used in household products, like corrections fluids, and in a number of automotive solvent cleaners. You can smell it at 0.01% concentration in the air; it is indeed apparently smelly stuff, about twice as smelly as 1,1,1-TCE (I'm guessing this is a linear response). It is a probable human carcinogen based on mouse models; maximum routine occupational exposure over 8 hours is 200ppm (so about twice the level at which you start to smell it).
If you're my age and you remember the CFC media blitz of the late 80's: TCE/1,1,1-TCE are apparently archetypical examples of CFCs. TCE is an extremely common industrial chemical; it isn't (if you were wondering) in any way specific to electronics.
The TCE that pops up in the article over and over again is 1,1,1-TCE. As pointed out, it is not counted as carcinogin, however it has been linked to birth defects in lab animals.
Wikipedia says "The IUPAC name [for trichloroethylene] is trichloroethene." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trichloroethylene
They're not C[F]Cs -- no [f]luorine in them.
I plead office move today. The 1,1,1-TCA EPA tox report said it was pulled because of ozone layer concerns, and there's a 1,1,1-TFA that is a CFC. But yep, that was a dumb sentence for me to have written.
For clarity, I would suggest not using "TCE" for trichloroethane.
It would be really great to be able to deploy your own sensor network instead of pleading with busy and underfunded governmental agencies to help you out.
I'm very much interested in monitoring air pollutants. I live in a place in Germany where BASF built "the worlds largest chemical plant" right next to the centers of two cities with about half a million residents combined . And of course, you can smell that they pollute the air with something. Yet there is no information whatsoever on which chemicals they dump into the air and what the concentration is. The usual air quality measurements cover O3, SO2, NO2 and PM10 . It's probably easy to monitor those yourself, just buy a sensor. But how do you monitor something that you can smell, you don't know what it is? Mass spectrometer?
The aggregate data could be really interesting.
My startup builds big sensor networks - but the sensor side of things is where the real innovation is. Microfluidics, 'labs on a chip' in CMOS, infrared spectroscopy, etc...
Sadly it's worlds different than using thermocouples or reading i2c type buses.
Unfortunately much of these advances cited above are academic efforts. How this translates to a product usable 'in the field' is perhaps more clear in the medical device world than in environmental monitoring.
I'd like to believe one could 'crowd-source' pollution monitoring. Open source sensors, drive costs down, collect data, throw it atop an OpenStreetMap layer and somehow the populus as a whole could make better informed decisions in resource consumption/politics/whatever.
Yet these types of studies (presently) are best carried out by governments and academic researchers for a number of reasons (land rights, use of 'mixed use' satellites, calibration, etc). Take water pollution for instance. The USGS builds 'The National Map'  which has a data layer for water runoff  (rivers,streams,etc), pollution sources , and whatever data sources are hidden in EPA, private mining/gas industires, Army Corp of Engineers, etc databases. The GIS work to make sense of even existing data is daunting. Add to it the polical winds of Fiscal Sequestration and 'less-regulation' and things look grim.
That said, microfluidics and biomarkers are moving more ino the Hacker realm and out of the cleanroom. And ultimately it's how well the Hacker community interacts with academia/goverment...
It would be worthwhile to meditate on this while people work to remove the Hetch Hetchy reservoir from existence in the name of "restoring nature."
ETA: of course, the biohazard aspect is just one of the reasons we rely on HH and not even the biggest. But it plays a role.
A biohazard is when you spill untreated sewage into the Gowanus Canal during heavy storms because you have a combined sewage system, and it's full of freakish bacteria.
I assume when you said "biohazard" you thought "hazardous to biological things". That's really covered with just the "hazard" part though. :b
Anyway, if any of your friends start rhapsodizing about blowing up dams and returning it to its original condition, point out to them that the water in the East Bay is hard as nails and nowhere near as tasty.
There's a bakery about 100 feet from that corner. They make 21 different kinds of cookies and various other assorted pastries. See: http://goo.gl/maps/DHFmn
Also, Izzy's front door is actually 349 feet from where I was standing outside of Wells Fargo. It's 4,385 feet from the intersection where I first noticed the smell. So it's probably not Izzy's.
OP's contaminants are a class of chemicals called dense nonaqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs) and they have a nasty habit of collecting at the bottom of aquifers (they're denser than water), making them particularly hard to clean up. They eventually degrade into vinyl chloride, which is a carcinogenic and toxic gas with a (yup) sweet smell.
(This is probably glossing over a lot, but it's the summary I got from my boyfriend who does site investigation for soil and groundwater contamination—It could be summed up as "never live downgradient from a dry cleaning establishment").
In my area have an old Army depot where dioxins, PCBs, and other nasties were dumped in the 1950's and 60's have leached into the ground, and now form a underground plume that has resisted remediation efforts, and is moving with the groundwater to the playing fields of the local high school. Basically, they drill wells and try to suck up contaminated groundwater.
In other cases, remediation measures are not 100% effective and can be really disruptive. In coastal areas on Long Island where Hurricane Sandy smashed ships to shore and ruptured oil tanks, nearby property owners are not allowed to reoccupy the property for 15 or more years while the contamination disperses into the environment. So be careful what you wish for.
A handful of sites are blocked, after a while of being available iphonedevsdk.com was blocked, for instance. That makes perfect sense given they were the vector for lots of high profile attacks.
Noisebridge.net was blocked, but while organizing an event I requested it be made available and it has been since.
I suspect there is a lot of overlap with Google's unsafe sites list, but this was listed as "Education;Spam/Illegal".
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't a Brita filter be completely useless for this kind of contamination?
We paid extra close attention to this HP plume and a few others like the MEW plume around the Google campus, drawing them in manually from documents, but the vast majority are created based on convex hull calculations from the well information available on geotracker . They are not perfectly accurate but provide a reasonable approximation of plume locations.
We pulled this data together last year during the summer and haven't done much with it since, but if anyone wants to click around and have a look here's a link that will bypass the login requirement: http://cleanupdeck.terradex.com/target/map_icplume/16/37.424.... You just need to click on the "groundwater plumes" layer on the left, and when you click on a blue plume it will bring up an info panel, most of which will have a link to the geotracker page which collates most of the useful information about the plume.
(I'm inclined to believe him too. But I'm biased against the EPA anyway... I'm still mad at them for telling us it was safe to go back to lower Manhattan days after the towers fell.)
It isn't pretty.
It depends. Some cities and counties have maps available online with this information. Also the EPA has maps of every site, http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/
I was a bit shocked a few years ago to discover it's now a superfund site, and most of the dumping in the creek was taking place while I was busy being a typical kid.
So far, I haven't grown any extra limbs.
What's across the street? Why, an old folks home, of course: http://www.sunriseseniorliving.com/communities/sunrise-of-pa...
Also, luxury apartments and a VTA stop.
Still, all of these are in the zone, including the apartments.
But I'd love to see measurements, particularly if they're taken early in the morning, when the flow rate has probably been low for several hours.
The silicon part of "Silicon Valley. "
It's sorted in descending order by max level of TCE detected at each well, ever. The top three wells are 140k (ca 2006), 110k (ca 2009), and 100k (ca 2007) micrograms / liter.
There's a similar site by the Sunnyvale Fry's on Arques, but that one's peak detection was 74.7k ug/L.