Epa To Unveil Plan To Contain Water Contamination

November 08, 1990|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

Twelve years have passed since Harmans resident Richard Morehead went to the county health department with a glass of his bright-green well water.

Tonight the EPA is having a public hearing on its plan to keep the contamination from spreading.

So far, the old 69-foot Morehead well -- which was found to contain arsenic, chrome and copper from the wood processing plant across the street --and a few nearby test wells are the only ones in the area to show contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency lists 17 domestic wells, 13 public supply wells, five commercial wells and one institutional well -- most of them deeper than Morehead's -- within three miles of the Mid-Atlantic Wood Preservers plant.

But the EPA was worried enough about the presence of known carcinogens within three miles of water supplies serving 75,000 people to designate the area for clean-up under its high-priority Superfund program in 1986.

The EPA's containment plan, to be unveiled at 7 p.m. tonight at Harmans Elementary, calls for MAWP to pave contaminated soil areas to protect them from being stirred up or rained on; the construction of a new covered-cement drying area to prevent further leaking; and long-term monitoring of air as well as ground water quality.

Although the site presents no major health problem now, the potential release of hazardous materials could cause "an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health, welfare, or the environment."

The estimated cost of the plan -- to be borne by MAWP's parent company, Fort McHenry Lumber -- would be $239,000.

Four other plans have been studied, ranging in scope from a no-cost, no-action alternative to a $2.7 million excavation proposal.

The EPA says the recommended plan is the best alternative because it protects the soils from exposure to the elements and allows the chemicals to disperse naturally.

Morehead, whose green water spurred the EPA into action, moved out of town 10 years ago with the money from an out-of-court settlement with the state and MAWP. Since then, the problem hasn't generated much interest.

"They caught it quickly and city water came around so we didn't have to use the wells any more," said George Hall Sr., who lives next door and downhill from Morehead's old lot, now a storage yard for trash bins.

"Personally, the only problem I see is in the sale of property and them proving there's no danger here."

Shipley's Avenue is a semi-industrial, semi-residential cul de sac off Dorsey Road, 1 miles southwest of BWI airport. At different levels underground lie both the Patapsco and Patuxent aquifers.

One consultant's study published in 1987 noted that even though 75,000 people depend on ground water drawn from wells within three miles of the site and 5,000 live within four miles of the Superfund site, the EPA public affairs office had not received one single call from a private citizen about the problem.

Though the county moved quickly back in 1978 to connect local residents to public water supplies, and the EPA immediately identified the causes of the leak, up to now little has been done to correct the environmental problem.

The consensus of several government and independent studies, now bound in five separate volumes in the Provinces Library, is that the contamination only poses a minor hazard to the community's health.

"Approximately one additional person out of 2,000 exposed is at risk of developing cancer" because of the contamination, an EPA synopsis estimates.

The plan EPA is recommending tonight would bring the risk down to one additional case of cancer per 100,000 exposed, the agency estimates.

Chromates, which have been discovered in concentrations 33 times the EPA limit, have been known to cause kidney damage in rats and guinea pigs.

when ingested and lung cancer in humans who breathe it in. Arsenic, which has been found in concentrations 42 times the EPA limit, has been tied to skin cancer, lung cancer and gangrene in humans.

According to the studies, the contaminants in Morehead's well -- also discovered in ground water and surface soils along Shipley Avenue -- stem from two separate problems. One is the accidental discharge in 1978 of some 50 gallons of chromated copper arsenate, a wood preservative. The other is the drippings from treated wood left to dry on the grounds of the wood preserving plant between 1974 and 1981.

In 1987, Mid-Atlantic Wood Preservers reported to the state that it had 100,000 pounds of arsenic and chrome stored on the premises at any given time.

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