More toxins unearthed at Carrs Mill Landfill 21 drums found

neighbors alarmed

October 17, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Workers in head-to-toe protective suits last week unearthed 21 more 55-gallon drums, some crushed and others containing toxic industrial solvents, at the closed Carrs Mill Landfill in Woodbine.

The excavation began Thursday in response to the Sept. 30 discovery that the solvents were inside drums buried or partially buried at the landfill, which was closed in 1976.

Thirty-one of the containers have been found at the partially wooded and overgrown site on Carrs Mill Road and officials expect to find more, said John J. O'Hara, chief of the Howard County Bureau of Environmental Services.

Test results from samples taken from two of the drums have shown the main component of the liquid to be trichloroethylene, with some tetrachloroethylene and traces of other volatile organic compounds.

Trichloroethylene, or TCE, is a widely used degreasing agent that has caused liver cancer in laboratory animals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists TCE as a "probable human carcinogen," and it considers drinking water to be unsafe if it contains more than 5 parts per billion of the compound.

Because the drums were buried at least two decades ago, Mr. O'Hara said, it is doubtful that the county could ever find out who dumped the hazardous material.

"They've been buried for 20 years; given the amount of deterioration, it's unlikely we're going to find any shipping labels or things like that. We do look for that, but, given the age of these drums, it's not likely we're going to find anything."

Although the area is sparsely populated, the discovery has alarmed nearby residents, who must rely on wells for their drinking water.

Joy Bloom, who owns 10 acres just across Carrs Mill Road from where the drums were discovered, said that she is concerned about her drinking water and the Cattail Creek, in which her dog swims regularly. "I have an infant that stays with me quite a bit. I don't know how hazardous this [water] is," she said. "I think the county should be providing us with drinking water right now."

She said she is especially angry that, when workers began digging holes next to the landfill in April, they refused to tell her what they were doing and who hired them.

"I'm very concerned that it is toxic and we have not been informed. I think the county has a duty to inform us," she said.

But Mr. O'Hara said that residents near Carrs Mill were informed in a letter that asked permission for residential well testing, which began in May 1991. He said the letter told residents that contaminants had been discovered in monitoring wells on the landfill site.

Two empty drums were discovered on the overgrown surface of the landfill about two months ago by workers from the environmental services department and GeoTrans Inc. as they were conducting a soil gas study. The study is part of a four-year, $7.8 million project begun early this year to measure and locate contamination caused by the county's three landfills.

It is believed that cancer-causing volatile organic compounds or VOCs that contaminate ground water and streams make up one of the biggest pollution threats from landfills. The toxic solvents are said to come mainly from such household items as paint thinner and cleaning fluids.

On Sept. 30, cleanup workers from Linthicum-based Clean Venture Inc. removed 11 drums and discovered more buried drums. Once they determined that the drums contained hazardous materials, work was stopped.

GeoTrans workers then conducted a more comprehensive site survey and, using metal detectors, they found a second cache of drums about 100 feet from the first discovery.

Work proceeded Thursday under a higher level of safety standards, which included full protective suits and an air supply, and heavier earth-moving equipment.

Once drums were unearthed, samples were taken for laboratory testing and the drums were packed into larger salvage drums and finally moved into a plastic-covered staging area where their seals were checked before being locked inside containers that can be removed by trucks.

Toxic solvents have also been found in ground water beneath the county's other two landfills. New Cut Road in Ellicott City, the county's first "sanitary landfill," was closed in 1980 with the opening of Alpha Ridge in Marriottsville, which is expected to fill up in 2008 unless the county changes the way it deals with trash.

The New Cut Road Landfill is the only one of the three landfills that has been linked to residential well contamination. The county has outfitted several wells there with treatment systems and last month began installing a water line to serve those homes.

County officials also have vowed to bring public water to landfill neighbors in Marriottsville, even though periodic tests by the county health department have not shown residential well contamination.

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