Warning Unheeded On Millersville Landfill 18 Years Ago

Andrews Told Of Risk Of Ground Water Contamination

April 29, 1992|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

County Department of Public Works Director Parker Andrews was cautioned 18 years ago that the Millersville Landfill could contaminate nearby residential wells.

But Andrews and state regulators did not heed the Maryland Geological Survey's warning and a month later issued the county a refuse disposal permit, state records show.

In a Nov. 1, 1974, memorandum, Emery T. Cleaves, assistant director of the Geological Survey, recommended that the county take steps to minimize the "encroachment of pollutants" into the aquifers, or pools of ground water, beneath the Burns Crossing Road facility.

Maryland Department of the Environment records show that the 567-acre trash facility sits atop an area that filters rain water into the Magothy and Patapsco aquifers, which supply communities from Severn to Cambridge on the Eastern Shore.

Among other recommendations, Cleaves wrote that the county should monitor the numerous shallow, domestic wells that surrounded the site "for the first occurance of pollutants. Such wells can be replaced, if necessary, by deeper artesian wells which would be immune from the effects of the landfill."

Cleaves said Monday he did not recall the 1974 memo.

During the past month, county Health Department officials have discovered four shallow, domestic wells contaminated with pollutants similar to those found in two monitoring wells at the center of the site.

But Public Works and Health officials have said no routine monitoring of the residential wells has ever been conducted.

Regulators at the state Department ofHealth and Mental Hygiene dismissed Cleaves' opinion less than two weeks after he issued his memorandum, state records show.

In a Nov.13, 1974, Health Department memo, G. Ward Barstow, then chief of thestate's sanitary landfill review section, wrote that he had spoken with Andrews on the telephone about Cleave's letter. He said he received Andrews' assurances that John Lawther, then a hydrologist at the state's Water Resources Administration and now chief of MDE's landfillpermitting section, was not concerned by the Geological Survey's assessment. The WRA also reviewed the county's permit.

"Therefore, there is no need to for us to change our decision to issue a permit forthe Millersville site," Barstow concluded.

Andrews did not returna reporter's telephone calls this week.

State health officials also were confident that a thick layer of earth beneath the proposed landfill would prevent any contaminants from reaching the ground water.

In an Oct. 28, 1974 memo, Bruce Martin, a geologist with the state Health Department, challenged then-county Public Works Director George Niemeyer's public statements that the landfill was protected by an impermeable barrier of clay.

"This is not correct," Martin wrote. "As a geologist, I believe adequate filtration of possible contaminants will occur in the sediments, but there is no finite barrier suchas a clay horizon."

The state agency issued the county a refuse disposal permit on Dec. 2, 1974.

In 1985, contaminants were found in the two monitoring wells at the center of the landfill. However, county officials were confident the pollutants were not escaping the facility because more than two dozen monitoring wells around the perimeter were clean.

The county began installing additional test wells around the perimeter of the site yesterday, said Utilities Director Tom Neel, whose department assumed control of the landfill from PublicWorks last week.

The county has discovered gaps that allowed untested ground water to flow toward nearby residents' wells.

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