Research on toxic solvents that have leaked into bedrock below the Howard County landfill in Marriottsville shows there is no "catastrophic problem" compared to common contamination such as a gasoline station leak, a consulting firm has told the Howard County Council.
That assessment angered anti-landfill activists Donald L. Gill and L. Scott Muller.
They believe the problem of the solvents, which they say will eventually leak into residents' water supply, is much worse than the consultant portrayed.
Charles R. Faust, principal hydrologist for GeoTrans Inc., a ground water contamination consulting firm based in Sterling, Va., addressed the council Tuesday night. He said that among the problems he has studied in his 12 years of experience, toxins below the Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville, a few miles from Sykesville, are at comparatively low levels.
In addition, he said, "the [pollution] plume is confined to a relatively small area."
But Dr. Gill and Mr. Muller objected, saying the consulting firm, hired by the county, doesn't know enough to reach such conclusions.
"I'm really disturbed at how little you've learned," said Dr. Gill, a University of Maryland medical school biochemist who lives near the landfill. "I have never been exposed to this level of sweeping stuff under the carpet."
Toxic solvents normally used for grease-cutting, dry cleaning or paint removal -- several of them suspected carcinogens -- were found last year in a bedrock monitoring well at levels many times higher than federal drinking water standards.
The toxins have not surfaced in tests of selected residential wells nearby.
Howard public works officials got test results showing the contamination last September.
The county executive and council learned of them later from Dr. Gill. He obtained the results from John J. O'Hara, county chief of environmental services, in October after Dr. Gill noticed a drilling rig for the deep well on the landfill's northwest corner.
To begin to correct the problem, Mr. Muller asked the council to push for four steps:
* Regular testing of all residential wells within a county-designated testing area. The area extends beyond Routes 99 and 144, and Sand Hill and Marriottsville roads, close to the Carroll County line.
* Speed up the current study of the extent of the contamination, which was first discovered in shallow wells in 1990.
* Begin efforts to correct the problem as soon as possible.
* Stop dumping at the landfill -- even in the new cell with a double plastic liner and leachate collection system -- and hire a hauler to remove trash from the county until an alternative means of dealing with the waste is in place.
Mr. O'Hara said the county would stop dumping in the 12-year-old, clay-lined cell next week and use only the plastic-lined cell.
The old cell will be capped with plastic in about a year to allow the trash to settle.
Dr. Gill said capping the landfill will prevent more rainwater from getting into it, but will not prevent heavier-than-water solvents from leaking into residents' water supply.
GeoTrans is expected to recommend drilling additional deep wells at the north and west sides of the landfill to monitor the ground water.
Mr. O'Hara said the county plans to drill an additional 10 to 15 deep wells around the rest of the landfill. He said the wells could also be used to pump out contaminated water for treatment.
He estimated later that the wells won't be drilled for about three months.
Mr. Muller said he doubted that the county could afford the cost of drilling.
"I'll be real happy if they dig deep wells all the way around the landfill and don't find anything," he said.
The only way to stop the solvents from leaking from the landfill is to remove the trash, Mr. Muller said.
Councilman Paul Farragut asked whether the county could conduct "landfill mining," as is being done in Lancaster, Pa. Mr. O'Hara said the idea was "probably not viable."