Cleanup yields more drums Discovery brings total to 161 at Carrs Mill Landfill

November 02, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

After finding 150 drums -- some of them containing toxic solvents -- in one spot at Carrs Mill Landfill, cleanup crews pulled 11 more 55-gallon drums out of a second spot yesterday.

Officials in the county Public Works Department, which is in charge of the county's one operating and two closed landfills, are investigating the dumping by looking through old records and trying to find former landfill workers.

State officials continue to monitor the county's cleanup efforts, saying that, so far, there is no need for any other government agency to get involved with the cleanup.

The county is trying to adhere to regulations that apply to toxic cleanup sites listed as a priority under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Superfund" program, said John J. O'Hara, chief of the county Bureau of Environmental Services.

The Carrs Mill site will not be placed on the Superfund list if the county continues to assume responsibility for the contamination and provide for its cleanup, said Michael P. Sullivan, spokesman for the state Department of the Environment, which is responsible for enforcing federal environmental regulations in Maryland.

The dozen or so Superfund sites in the state are placed on the list to make certain that they are cleaned up, in particular when it is uncertain who is responsible for the contamination or whether those responsible will admit liability.

Although it was probably done before strict environmental regulations were enacted, such dumping was illegal under environmental regulations of the 1970s, Mr. O'Hara said. The landfill closed in 1976.

After an estimated 30 drums were initially located visually or by the use of metal detectors Sept. 30, officials estimated that the cleanup might be finished within two weeks.

After the work started Oct. 14, crews found more drums on the site. And the discovery of 11 more today has brought the total there to 161 and postponed the estimated completion date.

As of last week, contractor Clean Venture Inc. of Linthicum had performed about $52,000 worth of work, and had not finished removing drums from the first hole, said Mr. O'Hara. If clearing out the second hole takes as long, the total might reach about $100,000 for removal and temporary storage, he said.

It is difficult to say how much disposal will cost, he said, until it is determined what substances are in drums recovered from the second hole.

So far, about 30 drums were found to be at least half full of contaminants. Not all of the drums have been tested, but the main component in the drums is trichloroethylene, or TCE, Mr. O'Hara said.

TCE is a widely used degreasing agent listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a "probable carcinogen" because it has caused cancer in laboratory animals. The EPA considers drinking water to be unsafe if it contains more than 5 parts per billion of the compound.

Ground water sampled from a bedrock monitoring well under the landfill property tested at 1,400 parts per billion in September, fTC but so far residential well tests in the area have not shown contamination. The nearby Cattail Creek had shown unsafe levels of TCE as early as 1991, however.

Mr. O'Hara said his staff has been looking through old records in an effort to piece together how the landfill operated, and how such a dumping could have occurred.

"They were concentrated in one location," Mr. O'Hara said. "It wasn't like they came in randomly in loads of garbage."

Simply finding out how the landfill operated could be difficult because the landfill has been closed for 17 years and "records aren't real good," he said.

"We really don't have any access to anyone who was there at the time. The person who ran the facility is no longer alive," Mr. O'Hara said.

The first two drums, which were empty, were discovered about two months ago by county workers and ground water contamination consultants who were taking soil-gas samples for a study of the extent of contamination at the county's three landfills.

The study is being done as part of a four-year, $7.8 million project begun early this year to measure, locate and clean up landfill contamination.

The Alpha Ridge Landfill part of the study is expected to be completed sometime this month, while the New Cut and Carrs Mill studies are likely to be finished in early December and early January, respectively.

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