County mailing brings news of landfill to residents

April 22, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

The latest scoop on the county landfill's contamination problems landed in the mailboxes of Marriottsville residents this week.

"Residential Well Test Money to Be Included in County Budget" and "Residential Wells Test Free of VOCs" were two of the headlines featured in the inaugural edition of the Alpha Ridge Landfill Newsletter.

The monthly publication was created to answer charges by community activists that county public works officials had not kept residents informed of significant developments in a ground water testing project started last year.

"There was a concern about informing the residents in a timely fashion as to what the status of the project was," said James M. Irvin, county public works director. With the introduction of the newsletter, he said, "hopefully, they'll at least understand what's happening there."

The four-page mailer will focus on a different aspect of the landfill problem each month, Mr. Irvin said. The topics will likely include ground water sampling, sources of contaminants and the process of capping the old landfill cell, he said.

Landfill activist L. Scott Muller said he was disappointed that the first issue contained no test results.

"I think the residents really should be aware of how badly it's polluted, and they need to be aware of how far [pollutants have] moved from the landfill," he said. "I think they're trying to make the people in the area think that there's really not as much of a problem as there might be."

Mr. Irvin said the next issue will have a summary of test results and federal drinking water standards.

John O'Hara, chief of the Public Works Department's Bureau of Environmental Services, noted that two pages of the first issue were taken up with a map of the landfill area, showing locations of monitoring wells and sampled residential wells.

The map is to be kept as a reference for future issues' listing of test results from wells marked on the map, he said.

About 530 copies of the first issue were mailed to residents near the landfill and people who had expressed interest in it, said Gail Bates, assistant to County Executive Charles I. Ecker. Future issues will be sent only to about 260 residents who returned postcards indicating they wanted the mailers.

"Sometimes people will see things happening and they don't know what it is and they will begin to speculate. We want them to know what's happening," Ms. Bates said.

She added that some residents had returned cards without their names and addresses. She urged anyone who is not sure they are on the mailing list to contact her office at 313-2011 or County Councilman Charles C. Feaga's office at 313-2001.

Tests in 1990 first showed that ground water below the landfill was contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or solvents used for cleaning everything from clothes to engine parts. Several of the compounds are suspected carcinogens.

Samples from the deepest well showed in September that toxins had gotten into bedrock below the landfill. Until then, residents were told that bedrock would serve as a barrier between the landfill and their drinking water, which comes from fissures in the bedrock.

The discovery was not widely known until Donald L. Gill requested and received the test results from public works officials. Dr. Gill, a biochemist and local activist, and other residents charged that the results should have been announced publicly because they indicated a much graver problem than was originally believed.

Public works officials replied that the project, designed to study the movement of the toxins and possible remedies for the problem, was not complete. Before making an announcement, they wanted to have a more thorough analysis.

Mr. Muller said he was pleased by a piece of good news contained in the first newsletter.

The "Residential Well Test" article told of $100,000 for residential well testing proposed in the executive's fiscal 1994 capital budget unveiled Monday.

Area residents have criticized county officials for failing to test all neighboring residential wells, a promise made to them before the landfill opened in 1980.

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