Emergency Reaction Plan Lauded

Containers Of Septic-testing Chemicals Discovered In Gaither Home

January 02, 1991|By Ed McDonough | Ed McDonough,Staff writer

GAITHER — Carroll's emergency response plan passed a major test when a supply of chemicals was discovered at a South Carroll home last week.

Theplan, which is the procedure for disposing of hazardous materials, was implemented when Lorraine Small discovered the chemicals while cleaning the basement of her Patapsco Drive home.

The chemicals had been used by her husband, Phillip, in his septic-testing business before he passed away about two weeks ago.

Unsure what to do with the materials, Small called the Carroll Emergency Operations Center Thursday. The EOC, in turn, contacted the Maryland Department of the Environment, which then contacted the regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Philadelphia.

The EPA is coordinating the cleanup, which could take as long as two weeks, while other agencies are assisting. The Carroll Health Department, for instance, will perform water, soil and septic-system tests on the Small property and on adjacent lots.

"I believe every agency acted responsibly," said County Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy Jr. Lippy,who is is a retired chemist from Lever Brothers in Baltimore, attended a briefing Saturday at the Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Hall with Commissioner President Donald I. Dell.

"What you're seeing is the system working the way it is supposed to," James Slater, county director of natural resources, said to the nearly two dozen concerned neighbors at the briefing.

It's not the first time Carroll officials had to activate the plan. Micki Smith, Carroll's director of public information, said the system was used more than a year ago when several materials accidentally were mixed at Western Maryland College.

Though that emergency was more immediate, it was much smaller in scope than the incident here. The discovery in the Small home requires cataloging all of the estimated 500 to 1,000 containers found in the basement and in a storage shed in the back yard before they can be sent to out-of-state disposal sites.

Officials emphasized Saturday that neighbors are not in any imminent danger. Preliminary testing, they said, indicated no chemical residue in the air or ground at the Small house, and none of the containers appeared damaged.

They said most of the substances identified so far are chemicals typically usedin a high school or college chemistry lab. Many could be ordered legally from chemical supply firms.

Officials also praised Small's action.

"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.

Several neighbors questioned officials about any link between her husband's death and the chemicals stored at his house. Officials said they had yet to pursue that issue, because Small still is trying to cope with her husband's death. They added doctor-patient confidentiality could make it difficult to obtain such information.

Still, some neighbors wanted to make sure the cause of death is part of the investigation.

"The man used to walk up the street every day," said Susan Holt, a neighbor in the community of Patapsco Estates.

"Then he's gone for a week and all of a sudden, we find out he's passed away. I just want to make sure the EPA will pursue it."

Lippy saidhe, too, thinks the cause of death is relevant to the investigation.

"It's not the most important part, but it's certainly an important part," Lippy said.

Neighbors also asked if any of the material was radioactive. Officials said small amounts of low-level radioactivematerials 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, on-site EPA coordinator, holding his hands about four inches apart. He noted the readings are comparable to that of a watch with a glow-in-the dark face.

Officials said they suggested Small leave the house durning the cleanup, but said neighbors should not have to alter their schedules.

"There's no reason for anyone in this room to do anything differently than they have always done," Pittman said.

Officials will have another publicmeeting to provide more information on the cleanup at 7 tonight at the Fire Hall on Route 32.

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