Rubble Fill Tests Reveal Toxic Chemicals' Presence

April 19, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

Harford health officials say new test results from samples taken at an Abingdon rubble fill confirm that two chemical compounds, including one suspected of causing cancer, are present at the site.

The test, conducted in March, measured levels of trichloroethylene at 99 parts per billion in one of seven test sites at the Spencer Sand & Gravel Inc. rubble fill.

Another compound, dichloroethene, measured at 107 parts per billion (ppb) on the same test site, which is on the east side of the rubble fill.

In September, a test showed levels of trichloroethylene at 88 ppb; the maximum allowable level under state and federal law is 5. Dichloroethene measured at 79 ppb, more than 10 times greater thanthe allowable level of 7, in last fall's test.

Dichloroethene is a solvent that can harm the liver, nervous and circulatory systems, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Trichloroethylene, which is thought to cause cancer, is used in pesticides, paints and degreasers.

To be harmed by the compounds, a person would have to ingest them over a protracted period, said John Goheen, a spokesman for the state Department of the Environment.

"You'd actually have to drink this stuff over a long period of time," he said. "That's long-term exposure."

The compounds also showed up at lower levels at a test site on the west side of Spencer's Abingdon Road rubble fill. Results from the remaining five test wells are not available.

The tests were conducted by the state Environment Department, which will do new tests in June. Spencer consultants stress that the samples were taken from clay and not ground water. The clay separates surface soil form the bedrock and aquifer.

County Health Officer ThomasM. Thomas said the new results "confirm the presence" of the compounds at the site, although he added that it is too soon to tell if the results point to a trend at the dump.

Thomas described the increase in the compound levels as "minute."

Spencer spokesman William Geary questioned the seriousness of the contamination. He added that the levels of the compounds may dissipate over time.

"Is this reallya potential hazard to anyone? How serious is it?" Geary said. "I don't think anybody has identified that. . . . I know it's a condition, but nobody has told us to do anything with it."

Geary said Spencerrepresentatives hope to meet with the county and state to discuss ifanything should be done about the contamination.

The company is seeking a state permit to expand its rubble-fill operations by 10 acres on the east side of Abingdon Road. Spencer, which has operated a rubble fill since the late 1970s, has a total of 51 acres for its operations.

Residents who live near the rubble fill say the new tests confirm their fears about contamination at the dump.

"It's something that obviously is not going away," said Nila Martin, who lives in the Village of Bynum Run subdivision, which abuts the rubble fill.

"We're afraid that we, the residents, are going to be stuck holding the bag."

Martin said she is urging neighbors to call or write county and state officials to voice their concerns about the rubble fill.The state must have a public hearing before granting Spencer a permit for the proposed expansion.

Builders working in subdivisions near the rubble fill say residents don't have to fear about contamination because their homes are served with public water and sewer services.

"I'm concerned, but I think the chances of (contamination) are minute," said Bob Ward, whose company is building houses in the Woodlands section of Box Hill South.

The county Department of Planning and Zoning is requiring builders at some subdivisions, including part of the Woodlands, to notify homebuyers that chemical compounds above regulatory limits have been detected "on occasion" in test wells at the rubble fill.

The disclosure adds that the homes in the development would have public water services, and compounds were not recordedat high concentrations, so there should be no health risks.

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