Suspected carcinogen in water to be purged HARFORD COUNTY

July 04, 1993|By Aminah Franklin | Aminah Franklin,Staff Writer

The removal of a suspected carcinogen from Harford County well water, a cleanup expected to take decades and cost millions of dollars, begins this week when Aberdeen Proving Ground starts operating an elaborate filtration system.

Recent tests revealed that water treated by the $1.2 million charcoal filter system showed no traces of trichloroethylene, or TCE, a common industrial solvent first detected more than two years ago in the county's Perryman well field.

The well field supplies drinking water to 12,000 homes and businesses -- half the customers on the countywide water system.

The proving ground acknowledges that an old firefighter training area on Army property is one source -- but perhaps not the only source -- of the TCE.

Water from the eight wells at Perryman -- which is mixed before being pumped to homes and businesses -- has never contained more than 2 parts TCE per billion, well below the federal safety standard of 5 parts per billion.

But two of the wells have at times contained nearly 10 parts TCE per billion; one of them has remained closed since late last year. The Army has supplied the county with about 900,000 gallons of water daily while the well was shut down.

That well and a second one that was shut down to install the filter system will be restarted Wednesday. The two wells together will produce 1.5 million gallons of water daily, said Barbara Filbert said, a spokeswoman for the proving ground.

Army officials said waste oil containing TCE from motor pool operations was used to ignite practice fires in shallow unlined pits for firefighter training from the early 1960s until 1989.

Army and county officials say the TCE was being pulled to the county wells -- about 1 1/2 miles southwest of the fire-training area -- by the force of the water withdrawal.

The Army paid for the filter system and its installation. But officials said that because the training area may not be solely responsible for the contamination, the county should share the system's yearly operating and maintenance costs, estimated at $100,000.

Officials at the proving ground, the 72,000-acre research and weapons-testing installation, say such filtration systems often must run for decades.

County officials, who had been at odds last spring over who would pay the cost of running the treatment system, say they hope to reach a compromise with the Army.

"The county would prefer that the Army handle the complete cost, but compromise is the life of government, so the county is willing to talk," said George Harrison, a county government spokesman.

County Administrator Larry Klimovitz said an agreement between the county and the Army has not been reached.

A county government source, however, said the county and the Army had tentatively agreed to split the cost roughly in half.

The start-up of the filter system was originally scheduled for June 30 but was delayed so that county workers could learn more about it, Mrs. Filbert said.

The Army is proceeding with a broader investigation of the TCE contamination and cleanup, which officials estimate could cost more than $10 million.

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