Churchville residents told not to use water State wins urgent takeover of service

November 06, 1993|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) took over the troubled Campus Hills Water Works company late yesterday and warned Churchville-area residents not to drink or use the water because of elevated chlorine levels.

The warning came yesterday afternoon as a Baltimore Circuit Court judge granted the agency's request to have operations of the privately owned water company run by the Maryland Environmental Service (MES).

The system serves 72 homes and 18 businesses, including the Campus Hills shopping center.

As Harford County Health Department workers went door-to-door distributing fliers to customers warning them not to use the water "until further notice," the county Public Works Department sent a 1,500-gallon water tanker to provide drinking water to the neighborhood.

MDE and the county Health Department have been closely monitoring levels of chlorine in the Campus Hills system since last summer when a broken pipeline left residents without water for several days and contamination was discovered in one of three wells.

A 5,000-gallon water tanker on loan from the Maryland National Guard was on the scene last night, to provide water to flush the system of contaminants, including high levels of chlorine, a county spokesman said.

On Oct. 18, the department ordered Dr. Charles C. Edwards, a Baltimore physician who owns the company, to turn over management of the firm to a "competent" state-approved operator.

Calling the system a "menace" to public health, state officials cited repeated delays in Dr. Edwards' efforts to make state-ordered improvements.

On Tuesday, the state filed suit in Baltimore Circuit Court against Campus Hills, saying that the company had failed to comply with the administrative order to repair the water supply and deal with bacterial contamination or hire a new operator. The state requested an injunction to force the company to comply.

A hearing had been scheduled for Monday on that request for an injunction.

But samples taken from the water distribution system yesterday showed an unusually high level of chlorine, which is customarily added to drinking water as a disinfectant.

"We didn't want to wait till Monday to get some action," said Mike Sullivan, an MDE spokesman.

Mr. Sullivan said that normally residual levels of chlorine in drinking water are maintained at approximately 1 milligram per liter, or 1 part per million.

Tests of the Campus Hills distribution system yesterday found chlorine levels at or above 20 milligrams per liter, or 20 parts per million.

At that level, Mr. Sullivan said, people may experience moderate respiratory and eye irritation from chlorine fumes.

The notice distributed to residents recommended that they "not use the water for drinking, cooking, bathing, or washing due to the problems associated with breathing chlorine fumes." It said that steps to correct the problem could take two to three days and warned residents to see a physician should they experience any respiratory discomfort.

The injunction granted by Circuit Judge David Ross yesterday allows MES, a quasi-governmental agency, to run the water company indefinitely.

A branch of the Department of Natural Resources, the environmental service designs and operates landfills, sewage plants and other facilities for state and local agencies.

Harford County government spokesman George Harrison said that water tankers will be stationed at Benton Court and Rhineforte Drive in Churchville all weekend.

Residents who have questions may call the Health Department from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at 838-1500 or MDE at 243-8700.

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