County affirms safety of Beechwood Lane wells despite chloroform traces

September 13, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

The Harford County Health Department sought to assure residents of the Beechwood Lane community that their well water is safe, despite test results that found six of seven wells contained trace amounts of chloroform.

The department is collecting information from residents who have complained that at least six of their neighbors have cancer, which they feared could be traced to contaminated water after learning that one well in the neighborhood contained traces of a gasoline additive.

"There is no reason to panic," said Woody Williams, a supervising sanitarian with the Harford County Health Department. "There is no health risk. The water is safe to drink," he said.

The Health Department ordered seven wells in that neighborhood tested after the Fallston Homeowners Association notified the agency of the cancer cases and the results of a private test that revealed trace amounts of toluenein a well on Beechwood Lane.

Salvatore Glorioso, president of the Fallston Homeowners Association, which represents residents in the Beechwood Lane area, said neighbors were concerned that an underground storage tank leak thought to have been cleaned up at 2828 Harford Road was causing problems again.

"Seven neighbors who are part of this community have cancer," said Mr. Glorioso. "I'm rattled over this thing. I want to have an answer."

But Mr. Williams said there is no apparent link between the old gasoline spill and the health problems area residents are now reporting.

He said no toluene was found in any of the seven wells tested, including the one that had previously shown traces of the chemical. Toluene is an industrial solvent and gasoline additive that can harm the liver, kidneys and respiratory system.

But Mr. Williams said trace amounts -- one part per billion or less -- of chloroform were found in six of the wells.

Chloroform, a byproduct of chlorine, is a toxic carcinogenic liquid used as a solvent and once used as a general anesthetic.

The Environmental Protection Agency limits the amount of chloroform that can be in the public drinking water supply to 100 parts per billion.

"The public water supply, as a result of the chlorination process, typically contains between 20 to 50 parts per billion of chloroform," said Mr. Williams. "The initial results indicate a trend, and I am curious about the source, but the bottom line is there is no health risk."

Tests on a seventh well revealed one-half part per billion of 1,1,1-trichloroethane, a solvent that can be found in spot cleaners, glues and aerosol sprays, but no chloroform was found in that well, said Mr. Williams.

The EPA ceiling for 1,1,1-trichloroethane is 200 parts per billion.

Not much is known about the effects of long-term exposure on human health, but studies have shown some harm to the respiratory systems of animals exposed to the chemical, state health officials said.

Despite the declaration that the drinking water is safe, Dr. Beverly Stump, Harford's deputy health officer, said she would not know whether the incidence of cancer cases in the neighborhood requires closer investigation until she has more details about the number and type of confirmed cancer cases.

Dr. Stump said that there is no evidence linking the reported cancer cases to one another or to the trace amounts of chemicals found in the water.

"Everyone is interested because of Maryland's reputation for having a higher incidence of cancer, but Harford County doesn't have any more cancer than anywhere else [in the state]," said Dr. Stump.

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