Cancer-causing chemicals have been seeping into ground water beneaththe Millersville landfill for seven years, spurring calls from neighboring residents to the close the county's largest trash facility.
Yesterday, county officials who want to expand the 580-acre landfillsought to allay fears that drinking water supplies or a nearby Severn River tributary are contaminated.
"There is no evidence at this time that anyone's drinking water or well has been affected," said Richard Waesche, chief of the Solid Waste Bureau in the county Department of Public Works. "If we detect anything leaving the perimeter of the site, the county will take immediate action."
Waesche said the county's expansion plans could eliminate the contamination at its source -- abandoned portions of the 18-year-old landfill that were closed before the state required protective barriers.
State and county officials believe rain water soaking down through the trash and into the ground have picked up pollutants and carried them into the ground water.
John Goheen, a spokesmanfor the Maryland Department of the Environment, said contaminants have been found in "significant levels" in two monitoring wells at the center of the landfill.
The contaminants include trichloroethyleneand benzene -- solvents commonly used in degreasers, household paints, wax and varnish -- at levels exceeding EPA drinking water standards, Goheen said.
However, the state has no evidence that the pollutants are spreading beyond the landfill, Goheen said. Monitoring wellsaround the perimeter -- the county operates nearly two dozen test wells -- have shown no more than occasional traces, or "blips," of contamination, he said.
Tom Fales, whose Fales Lane home is 400 feet from the landfill, became alarmed two weeks ago after learning that the landfill was expanding. He became even more alarmed after he discovered a Jan. 29 letter from the state Department of Natural Resources to Maryland Department of the Environment that said the landfill had contaminated the Severn Run and threatens drinking supplies for all of northern Anne Arundel County.
"I'm very concerned about my family's health if there is any contamination of the water under our house," Fales said. "I'm concerned the county has dropped the ball. They were supposed to have our wells checked, but no one has ever come to me and said, 'Your water is OK.' "
Fales rallied about 150 of his neighbors Wednesday night at Arundel Senior High School, alerting themto the Jan. 29 letter, unaware that the Department of Natural Resources had retracted its critical assessment after meeting with MDE officials earlier on Wednesday.
James Peck, DNR assistant secretary, said in the March 18 letter that the agency had been "too conclusive" in its earlier statement. "We have no evidence that the Severn Run headwaters are contaminated," he said.
However, the danger remains that the contaminants could move underground, Peck said, and eventually pollute the Severn Run. In an interview Wednesday, Peck said the DNR had based its earlier opinion on outdated reports.
Goheen said the MDE is testing water samples taken from the monitoring wells in late February. Those results should be available within two weeks, he said.
County officials say they expect their own test results within the next several days.
Residents who rallied behind Fales Wednesday night also vented frustration at the prospect that the landfill could continue operating for another 25 years.
Shirley Burnopp, whomoved to Gambrills Road with her husband a decade ago, said she believed the landfill would be converted into a county park in the mid-1980s. Now, they are frightened the landfill could harm their children's health.
"I don't know what they should with all that trash, but the landfill should be closed down," said Jacob Burnopp.
"We feel we've been sold a bill of goods by everybody, the state, the county, everybody," said Daisy Klempa, a resident of the Aurora Hills subdivision. "We don't feel very good about it."
The county applied to expand and make improvements to the Burns Crossing Road facility when its operating permit expired in October 1989, Goheen said. "As a practical matter, the expiration of their permit doesn't matter at all," he said. "They are still operating under the conditions of their old permit."
The expansion would extend the facility's life 25 years. County officials said the proposed longevity is a result, in large part, of the county's expanded recycling programs. County recycling trucks currently pick up glass, plastic and cardboard at about 26,000 homes. That number could increase to more than 100,000 before the end ofthe year.
Under the plan, the county would regrade some sections,or cells, to bring them into compliance with the new, more stringentenvironmental requirements. That will involve digging up three closed sections and combining them into a single, improved area covered bya protective barrier that keeps out rainwater, Goheen said.
The new design increases the landfill's elevation -- at 303 feet above sealevel, the highest point in central Anne Arundel -- as well as capacity, officials said.
However, Anne Sieling, spokeswoman for the county Department of Public Works, said the improvements will actually decrease the land disturbed by dumping from 245 acres to 220 acres.
The permit also would allow the county to open two new cells -- oneabout 54 acres in size and the other 84 acres, Goheen said. Ground water beneath the two new cells would be protected by a double-layeredplastic liner and network of drain pipes that collect and store rainwater contaminated by trash and other pollutants.