Wells near Joppa rubble fill to be tested for pollutants

July 26, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Residential wells next to the Oak Avenue rubble fill in Joppa will be tested for pollutants because tests of monitoring wells have been inconsistent, county officials said.

"The samples we've seen are pretty inconclusive," said Thomas M. Thomas, the county's health officer, noting that traces of pollutants found during one set of tests on monitoring wells at the rubble fill were absent in other tests. "I think it's prudent to test the residential wells."

Because of the differences in test results, state and county administrators have had a hard time figuring out whether the monitoring wells at the rubble fill are contaminated or whether chemicals are leaching from the rubble fill, Mr. Thomas said.

The state Department of the Environment double-checks test results, sharing water samples from the monitoring wells with the private company that rubble fill owner, Pappy's Inc., has hired to do its tests. The state laboratory and the private laboratory then compare test results.

MDE tests on water from the monitoring wells in December 1991 showed some wells contained three chemicals: acetone, a chemical common to nail polish, can cause bronchial irritation if inhaled and may depress the central nervous system if ingested or inhaled; toluene, an industrial solvent and gasoline additive, can harm the liver, kidneys and respiratory system if ingested or inhaled; and chloroform, a toxic, carcinogenic liquid used as a solvent and general anesthetic.

But MDE tests done in March, after some improvements to the monitoring wells, showed no sign of those or other pollutants generally called "volatile organic chemicals," which evaporate when exposed to air.

"It doesn't take a genius to figure out we have unreliable samples," said Mr. Thomas. "But it's possible the samples could have been contaminated because the equipment was not cleaned in between collections."

Last month, MDE ordered Pappy's Inc. to replace all the monitoring wells and conduct new tests to determine whether pollution exists at the site.

Mr. Thomas said the company has appealed that request and that MDE administrators are "considering other options."

But MDE talked tough in a June 23 letter, when Edward M. Dexter, a geologist with MDE's Hazardous and Solid Waste Management Administration, told Timothy Stancill of Pappy's Inc. that his company must conduct quarterly tests on the monitoring wells because some volatile organic chemicals were found in some samples. These chemicals can be removed from water by charcoal filtration or aeration.

Mr. Dexter also said MDE "is not ruling out any possibility regarding the origin or cause of the contaminants observed. . . . It is your obligation to provide [the Hazardous and Solid Waste Management Administration] with reliable data that can be used to make an informed decision in this matter."

The rubble fill has drawn complaints from nearby residents over the past two years because roaches that had invaded the site migrated into neighboring homes.

Pappy's Inc. hired a private pest-control company to spray infested homes and the rubble fill site.

Mr. Thomas had been scheduled to up date the County Council Tuesday on the roach situation, but upon learning only one roach had been spotted in a home in the past few months, the council turned its attention to MDE's role in testing the monitoring wells at the site.

But council members, bitter over what they have termed MDE's unresponsiveness to problems with another rubble fill, owned by Spencer Sand & Gravel Inc., questioned whether MDE would follow through this time.

"We've read their tough-talking letters before, and they've not done anything," said Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson.

He and other council members agreed Tuesday to ask MDE Secretary Robert Perciasepe to meet with them to discuss the rubble fill and other environmental concerns facing the county.

The council took no action on a resolution proposed by Councilman Robert S. Wagner, R-District E, proposing the state's environmental agency be abolished, and that the money the agency spends be given to counties to manage their own environmental programs.

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