GETTYSBURG, Pa. - A plan to cap Keystone Landfill and clean the ground water around it now hangs on an interpretation of several hours of comments from a public meeting Thursday.
Community acceptance is one of the criteria the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will use in deciding whether to follow through with a $9 million plan to monitor and treat surrounding ground water, and put a cap on the landfill to prevent more ground-water contamination from rain trickling through the now-closed dump in Union Township.
The verdict was unclear last night, as Maryland and Pennsylvania residents who live around the landfill unanimously told the EPA the plan needed more teeth, but stopped short of telling the agency to scrap it.
The crowd of more than 150 gave a cathartic laugh when, at about 11 p.m., after nearly four hours of comments urging more testing and other measures, one of them asked what the EPA would make of the meeting.
"How will you decide it there's community acceptance?" Susan D. Hardinger asked EPA officials at the end of nearly four hours of questions and comments from Maryland and Pennsylvania residents who live near the landfill.
Deborah Dewsbury, an environmental scientist who is the project manager for the cleanup plan, had said earlier she and other agency officials would review all the comments, written and spoken, before making a decision by the end of September.
If the EPA decides to go through with the plan, she said, the design period would take about one year, and the actual construction of the cap and monitoring equipment would take another 18 months.
In the meantime, Carroll residents and officials pressed the agency to provide bottled water and filters to everyone living within a 3-mile radius of Keystone Landfill.
The dump was open from 1966 to 1990. Contamination was first noticed during routine tests by Pennsylvania in 1982. The EPA became involved in 1984, and in 1987 added the dump to the National Priorities List.
About 65 Maryland residents attended the meeting. Some who spoke, including Hardinger as their main spokeswoman, asked the EPA for: *Bottled water and filters for everyone living within a 3-mile radius of the landfill.
*More testing, especially of residential wells and Maryland creeks and reservoirs that might be affected. The residents and a geologist they hired say the tests the EPA used should have been more sensitive, broad, frequent and repeated.
*Assurances that EPA will not leave monitoring up to Pennsylvania and Maryland environmental agencies. Several residents and officials who spoke said the state agencies have done little to remedy the landfill problems.
Hardinger and her group received strong support from several Maryland elected officials who attended the meeting. County Commissioners Jeff Griffith and Julia W. Gouge strongly urged the EPA to provide bottled water and do more testing. State's Attorney Thomas Hickman said he was ready to prosecute Keystone for polluting Maryland waters about three years ago, but couldn't because of sloppy data from the state Department of the Environment.
"There has been contamination in some Maryland wells. If you're spending $9 million, why can't you spend a few more bucks and provide bottled water for the area?" Griffith said.
The EPA has said its tests and tests by the Maryland Department of the Environment so far show no residential wells that exceed the maximum allowable levels of contamination for the chemicals linked to Keystone.
But Hardinger said the residents don't want any contamination.
"We don't want to drink vinyl chloride, or tetrachloroethene...or any of those goodies at any levels," Hardinger said.
Before the meeting, Dewsbury told reporters the EPA will do more testing of residential wells during the design phase of the cleanup plan. If the tests show the contamination to be beyond the maximum levels, she said, EPA will provide the residents with clean water.
The cost of the cleanup could be paid by Keystone Sanitation Co. and its clients found by EPA to be responsible for the contamination.
Once the EPA decides on a plan, it will negotiate with Keystone and its clients to pay for it. If they refuse to do so voluntarily, the EPA could force them to do so or pay for the clean-up out of a federal trust fund.
The trust fund is made up of taxes on industries, such as waste and petroleum, that have a potential to pollute land and water.
Several residents said they would not approve of the plan if it placed most of the responsibility for carrying it out on Keystone Sanitation Co., which owns the landfill, and its clients who are found by the EPA to be responsible for the contamination.
Dewsbury said the EPA would continue to monitor the cleanup. Jeff Pike, an EPA bureau chief, said the agency would conduct another public meeting if the work is to be done by the landfill owner and clients.
"That was very good news to us," Hardinger said. "I left the meeting feeling really good about how it went."
Although she still has reservations about the plan, she said, "I have a good feeling about the fact that they listened to us."
She said Dewsbury, the sixth project manager assigned to the project since the EPA became involved in 1984, appeared to take the residents' concerns seriously. The officials did not limit the public comments Thursday, and urged them to get all concerns on the record.