County drops landfill expansion Recent tests showed contamination

February 12, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Plans for expanding Alpha Ridge Landfill have been abandoned, Howard County Public Works Director James I. Irvin told the County Council yesterday.

Mr. Irvin's announcement comes a week after tests were made (( public showing toxic chemicals have seeped into bedrock deep beneath the Marriottsville landfill.

The decision is a victory for nearby residents who have battled to curtail landfill operations.

The council had voted $280,000 last year for a study to evaluate expansion, but asked County Executive Charles I. Ecker to wait until after a 15-member solid-waste committee made its report.

The committee delivered its report last week, urging the county executive and the council to consider recycling, composting or incineration instead of expanding the landfill.

If one or more of those options is selected, the commission said, the Marriottsville facility's use could be extended beyond 2008, when county officials have predicted it could reach capacity.

No money has been spent on the proposed study, and Mr. Ecker has recommended that the project be deleted from this year's proposed capital budget.

Toxic solvents used for grease-cutting, dry cleaning or paint removal have been found in a water fracture in the bedrock 75 feet below the surface of the landfill and at levels many times greater than the federal government says is safe.

But the toxins have not shown up in random tests of residential wells nearby.

Use of a clay-lined cell at the landfill must cease immediately, Donald L. Gill, a professor of biological chemistry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in a Jan. 28 letter to council members. Dr. Gill lives near the landfill.

All operations at the landfill should be stopped within 12 months and a major decontamination plan should be implemented, Dr. Gill said.

Dr. Gill learned of the findings after obtaining the test results from John J. O'Hara, county chief of environmental services.

Council members questioned Mr. O'Hara and Mr. Irvin yesterday to learn why county officials had not told them of the results when the tests were completed in September and November.

"The two samples did not give a complete picture of what's going on," Mr. Irvin said. "There was a perception that we were withholding information and I assure you that is not the case. We're dealing with two specific pieces of data that are part of a process. We are fully committed to presenting an accurate picture of what's going on out there."

Extensive tests now being conducted will give a better picture in the next few months, Mr. Irvin said.

"What is important," he said, "is that the contaminants are still at the site. Our information indicates that the problem is located at the facility and is not migrating off-site."

The county is using the test wells "as an early warning device to trigger an alert," Mr. Irvin said. "That's what happened. If [contaminants] were found off-site, it would be a big problem."

Mr. O'Hara told the council that preliminary pump tests indicate that "the contamination is limited to the site and likely to stay that way in the future."

The county expects to complete this phase of testing in June, issue a report in July and make recommendations based on the report in August, Mr. O'Hara said.

L. Scott Muller, a member of the county's Solid Waste Advisory Committee and resident who lives near the landfill, says it is time for the county to make good on its promise to test 106 residential wells near the landfill annually.

The county had reneged on its promise altogether until last year, when he and other residents complained, Mr. Muller said.

Since then, the county has tested about 30 wells but needs to do more, Mr. Muller said.

The cost to residents to test well water would be between $250 and $500, Mr. Muller said, but "the county could do it in bulk at about $150 a well. That's only $15,000 a year for something that could otherwise cost millions."

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