County calls toxic spill 'contained' Mercury cleanup to cost $52,000

July 14, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

A hazardous-materials crew finished cleaning up a mercury spill yesterday at the foot of Piney Run Dam near Sykesville, and Carroll officials said they are satisfied there is no danger.

Clean Harbors, the Massachusetts company hired to clean up the site, has sealed soil contaminated with mercury in 13 drums and will take the drums to a hazardous-waste disposal site, said James E. Slater, of Carroll's Office of the Environment.

Test results received this week showed that fish in the stream were not contaminated by mercury, he said. Previous tests showed the water was not contaminated.

"We feel very confident we've been able to get it. It has been contained. There is no problem," Mr. Slater said at a news conference yesterday at the County Office Building.

County workers discovered June 16 that several pounds of mercury had leaked from a water flow meter at the foot of the dam when the box containing the meter was vandalized six or seven years ago.

The cleanup will cost about $52,000, Mr. Slater said.

Mercury is a toxic metal that is heavier than water and can cause neurological damage. The metal was found in "minimal concentrations" in the soil around the meter box, Mr. Slater said.

Mercury trickled down the side of the box, which measured 2 feet by 3 feet, and sank 2 feet into the ground, said Robert King, the county's water resource specialist.

Workers removed contaminated soil around the box and tested soil in a 20-foot radius around the box, he said. They also removed a 4-inch layer of soil in the 20-foot area and dug borings varying from 6 inches to 2 feet.

The highest level of mercury found in that area was nine parts per million, Mr. King said.

The soil samples were compared with samples taken 20 feet up a slope from the meter, where no spilled mercury was found. The level of mercury in that soil was 0.20 parts per million.

The contaminated soil was not dangerous because no one would have ingested it, said Charles L. Zeleski, Carroll's assistant director for environmental health.

EA Engineering Science and Technology in Hunt Valley tested two fish found in the stream, Mr. Slater said. Workers tested a white sucker, which feeds at the bottom of the stream, and a red-breasted sunfish, which feeds near the top, he said.

Neither fish was found to contain mercury above acceptable levels, Mr. Slater said.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said the concern over the spill turned out to be "a tempest in a teapot.

"I want to thank everybody concerned," he said. "You've done a top-notch job. I think the whole situation was handled exactly right."

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