Residents who live near the Alpha Ridge landfill may not be sleeping as soundly as they used to.
They listened grim-faced last week as a neighborhood committee of eight people put together a 97-minute oral and visual presentation about pollution near the landfill for the Planning Board.
The committee cited broken promises, showed the Little Patuxent River free of pollution above the landfill but not below it, charted contamination in the ground water and suggested the landfill may pose a cancer risk.
Afterward, many in the crowd of 132 said things were worse than they thought.
"I was raised to believe and trust authority, but my eyes have been opened tonight," Marriottsville resident Olga Buckner told the board.
"I want to become hysterical. I am now really afraid to drink my water. I want to cry. I realize that doesn't do any good. But I wish we could stop what we have, and please, God, don't make it any worse."
Others found the presentation equally disturbing.
"My father, who lived with me, died of cancer," said Charles Aston, of Ellicott City. "I am shocked, dismayed, angered that the county would think of making the problem even worse by expanding the dump. Do we matter so little that you can bulldoze us?"
Aston accused the county of playing Russian roulette with people's lives.
"Only in this game, there is a round in the chamber and it has our name on it," he said. "I urge you to do the right thing. Follow the original plan and close that dump."
A possible link between cancer and living near landfills became a recurrent theme.
"Of the 12 families in our neighborhood, I know of two with cancer and two in which there were rare blood diseases," said Ron Louzon of Albeth Heights. "Last year, I was diagnosed with cancer. I'm 31 years old. I'm not saying the landfill caused it. I'm only saying, 'What if?' "
Benjamin Williams went a step further. He told the board he was representing West Liberty Methodist Church, 16 homes and several people whom he listed by name. The people he named "have passed away from cancer since the landfill was built," he said.
John J. O'Hara, county chief of environmental services, told the Planning Board the county is closely monitoring test wells on the north end of the landfill property where contaminants were found. He said there is no evidence of contamination in nearby private wells or the Little Patuxent River.
He said the contaminated on-site wells are being tested monthly, and the Little Patuxent River is being tested quarterly. Test wells to the east and south on the landfill property have not produced contaminants and are being tested less frequently, he said.
Over the next six years, the county is expected to spend $51.4 million to line unused cells at the landfill and cap existing ones to prevent leaching. Earlier cells had no liners. They were built instead on a compacted base.
The administration wants to expand Alpha Ridge onto adjacent property because the current landfill is expected to run out of space by the year 2008, O'Hara said.
Underlying the residents' testimony Thursday was a feeling of betrayal. What residents have endured, L. Scott Mueller said in his opening remarks, is a series of broken promises -- that when filled, Alpha Ridge would never be expanded; that residents' wells would be tested annually for contaminants; that the landfill would be filled a little at a time in small 10- to 20-acre parcels that would be converted to parkland as soon as each portion was completed; that the landfill would not leach contaminants into the ground water or the Little Patuxent River, and that residents would have public water by 1996.
By the end of the evening, at least two board members were calling the landfill a dump along with residents.
Board member Nelson Fenwick came close to testifying when he told O'Hara that he can say from personal experience there is "no monitoring whatsoever" of what goes into the landfill.
The kind of trash going into the landfill is also a concern to Councilman Charles C. Feaga, the residents' representative on the County Council. Feaga, who is recovering from surgery, sent an aide to deliver his testimony.
"We have no idea what toxic chemicals Mr. and Mrs. Homeowners are throwing away in their garbage," Feaga said through his aide. He underscored potential hazards to nearby residents and urged the board to vote against expansion of the landfill.
Board Chairwoman Kay B. Partridge asked O'Hara what residents had been asking the board.
"How do I learn which criteria [in the expansion proposal] I can rely on?" Partridge asked.
"I can't give you an assurance that how we design that site would remain stable over time," O'Hara said, because the county has been faced with changing restrictions over the years.