Cleanup scheduled for chemicals found in Gaither residence

December 30, 1990|By Ed McDonough | Ed McDonough,Ed McDonough is a reporter for the Carroll County Sun, a suburban edition of The Sun.

ELDERSBURG -- After Lorraine Small's husband passed away about two weeks ago, she began to sort through some of his belongings while straightening up the house. But when she came upon a collection of chemicals her husband used in his septic testing business, Mrs. Small knew she had stumbled upon something she could not properly dispose of.

Mrs. Small alerted the Carroll County Emergency Operations Center Thursday and county officials, in turn, summoned state and federal officials to the home in the residential community of Gaither. Officials said in a news briefing yesterday that removal of the 500 to 1,000 containers of potentially hazardous material could take as much as two weeks, although the chemicals posed no imminent threat to the community. "She certainly did the responsible thing in dealing with it," said James Pittman, acting deputy director of the hazardous and solid waste administration of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Officials said they will need as much as two weeks to catalog and remove the waste, which cannot be sent to out-of-state disposal sites until all of the containers are identified. But, they stressed that most of the substances identified so far are chemicals that typically would be used in a high school chemistry lab.

Neighbors at the briefing asked if any of the material was radioactive, in response to rumors circulating the past two days through the community. Officials said small amounts of low-level radioactive materials have been found, but pose no immediate threat to the area.

"The meter readings are so low, you have to put the meter that far away from it," said George English, the on-site coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency's regional office in Philadelphia, which is overseeing cleanup of the site. He noted ,, the readings are comparable to that of a watch with a glow-in-the-dark face.

Officials said they suggested Mrs. Small leave the house during the cleanup, but said neighbors should not have to alter their schedules. Mr. Pittman said there was no indication any of the chemicals had been released into the air or soil and that neighbors may continue using their well and septic systems.

Charles Zeleski of the county health department said his agency would perform precautionary soil and water tests on both the Small property and on nearby lots to make sure no chemical contamination had occurred.

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