Landfill of Lost Credibility HOWARD COUNTY

February 08, 1993

Beside the obvious and overriding problem involving health risks associated with contamination discovered at Howard County's Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville, county officials now have another major dilemma: Their own credibility.

The news that high levels of toxic chemicals have seeped into the ground water below the landfill is deeply troubling. Potential carcinogens such as solvents used in grease cutting, paint removal and dry cleaning were found at levels several times higher than current drinking-water standards. County officials are testing nearby residential wells, and haven't found any contamination yet, but they do have cause for concern.

As alarming as this discovery is, it is made more unsettling by the fact that some within the county administration had this information in hand last September, but did nothing to report it to top-level, elected officials.

Top-level leaders learned of the contamination only when a private citizen brought it to their attention last month. Even then, the public was not immediately informed.

This situation strikes us as more than a case of laxity. More appropriate descriptions would be incompetence and insubordination.

The explanation offered by county Public Works Director James Irvin as to why his department failed to turn over test results to higher authorities only further underscores the lack of good judgment used in this case.

According to Mr. Irvin, public works officials did not want to release the results of the study to their superiors until the experts "made sense of what it means and what can be done about the issue."

That kind of patronizing arrogance toward the public demands a strong response from County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

Mr. Ecker needs to move on this matter quickly to restore any semblance of public trust.

Meanwhile, Donald L. Gill, the University of Maryland medical school biochemist who blew the whistle on findings in the two reports, deserves praise. Mr. Gill wants the county to halt all operations at Alpha Ridge within a year.

At this point, Mr. Gill's suggestions carry more credibility than any from the paid public officials who are supposed to be managing this facility.

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