If the Harford County government is forced to clean up a leaking landfill near Abingdon, the project could become a "bottomless pit," sucking up millions of taxpayers' dollars and threatening county services, Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson said.
"It potentially jeopardizes everything else Harford County envisions doing in the next five to 10 years," Wilson said Thursday.
On Tuesday, council passed two bills, 6-0, to authorize spending $800,000 to pay for a remedial investigation of the 29-acre site. Remedial investigations are used to determine the extent of contamination.
Wilson, who introduced the bills in September at the request of County Executive Habern W. Freeman Jr., said the $800,000 represents a "drop in the bucket," compared to what the cost of the cleanup could swell to.
Money for the remedial investigation was diverted from the county government's budget surplus, said James M. Jewell, county treasurer.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency put the 29-acre landfill on its Superfund list of hazardous waste sites that pose the greatest threat to human health in March 1989.
The dump is on a site east of Bush Road, and flanked on two sides by the Bush Declaration Natural Resources Management Area, a forested area.
The dump took municipal waste from 1977 to 1982, said John Goheen, a spokesman for the state Department of Environment.
Harford County government had operated the site briefly, he said, as had Harris Brothers, a waste hauling company with an Abingdon address. Goheen did not have information specifying when the parties operated the dump.
A 1984 EPA inspection found toxic chemicals in the ground water beneath the dump.
The EPA found vinyl chloride, a cancer-causing compound; trans-1, 2-dichloroethane, a volatile organic compound; and trichloroethane, a cleaning solvent that can irritate the skin and depress the respiratory system.
Also, the EPA found on the site drums containing tolulene, which is toxic when inhaled, and methylene chloride.
In 1989 an EPA contractor found that water that ran through the landfill was on the surface of the site, agency spokeswoman Carrie Deitzel said.
However, the water was frozen and the contractor did not take a sample to determine the chemical content of it, she said.
Goheen said the 15 private wells within a half-mile of the dump have not been contaminated. The department does not know whether any of the contaminated water has migrated off the landfill site, he said.
The EPA has named the county government as potentially responsible for the contamination at the site because the county used it for dumping municipal waste.
Under the Superfund program, the EPA tries to get potentially responsible parties to pay for the cleanup. If the parties cannot pay for the cleanup or cannot be identified, then Superfund money is used.
Deitzel said the agency has named four others as potentially responsible parties: dump operator Lloyd Harris of Abingdon; Cello Corp., a New York-based company with a plant in Havre de Grace; Hazelton Lab Corp. of Herndon, Va.; and American Cyanamid Co., a Wayne, N.J., company with a division in Havre de Grace.
Generally the EPA considers as potentially responsible parties, site owners and operators; trash haulers that dumped at a site; and companies that sent their waste to a site.
The EPA has sent notices to the potentially responsible parties and is negotiating with those who have responded, Deitzel said. She added the EPA hopes to have an administrative order, which would set up the ground rules for the remedial investigation and say how much each party would pay, at the end of this month. A remedial investigation could start by spring, she said.
While Deitzel declined to name which parties have responded to the EPA notices, Goheen of the state Environment Department said the Harford County government is the only party negotiating with the EPA.
Goheen said if the county signs an administrative order with the EPA the state Environment Department will give the county technical assistance for the remedial investigation.
"This runs the possibility of costing the county millions," Council President Wilson said. "Of all the things the county government faces this is the single most frightening issue."
Wilson said there's no way to tell right now how much the county might have to spend cleaning up the landfill. But, he added, the initial outlay of $800,000 is significant.
"You're talking about a major diversion of monies," he said. By comparison, Wilson said, the same amount of money could be used to build a new fire company substation or a senior center.
A remedial investigation is one of the first steps taken with a site placed on the Superfund list. After the extent of contamination is determined, the state will send a report to the EPA, which then determines the level of risk posed by contamination.
Last comes a feasibility study to determine the best way to reduce the risk at the site.