Water worries in Harford

June 12, 1992

Heavenly Waters Park in Bel Air was not named because drinking the water there might land one in heaven. Yet Harford County officials recently had to scurry to fence off the idyllic park pond after they discovered it contained small amounts of a chemical named trichloroethylene, or TCE, once widely used to make paint and surgical anesthetic, among other products.

The park, where one can contemplate a family of ducks waddling in the shadow of a great, lazy willow, unfortunately is a stone's throw from the Tollgate Landfill. Officials believe the TCE is leaching into the pond from the former dump, which was closed in 1987. The county hopes to clean the pond and remove the fence by mid-summer.

The county has potentially an even graver problem with TCEs at its Perryman well field, which supplies half the county's drinking water. Officials first detected trace levels of the suspected carcinogen -- below allowable levels but high enough to raise concern -- a year ago. Officials disingenuously withheld the information and the TCE disappeared. When the levels picked up again this spring, however, County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann brought the problem to the attention of the county council and is now working on a solution. The council is weighing whether to spend $650,000 on geological studies and to drill a new well. The county has also asked top officials at the Aberdeen Proving Ground to investigate whether the pollution may have started there because the well is on the edge of the base.

Overall, the Rehrmann administration and the council have taken steps to address water and solid waste woes besetting Harford. The "Big Inch" water treatment system, which would ease the burden on the Perryman wells, is to be bid this fall and completed within two years. The "blue bag" recycling program county residents began last week is part of an overhaul of the solid waste system that was designed to raise money to cap problem landfills such as Tollgate.

Adequate schools, good roads, pleasant parks are important facilities for Harford residents. Yet they pale in comparison to the elemental need of safe drinking water. The county's high-priority response to the pollution in the Perryman wells and Heavenly Waters Park will be crucial to prevent citizens' confidence levels in county government from leaching into the ground, too.

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