Ecker seeks funds to clean landfill

November 25, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker sent the County Council legislation yesterday asking for a quick $1 million to pay mounting cleanup costs at Carrs Mill Landfill, where large quantities of cancer-causing solvents have been found.

Mr. Ecker asked the council to put the request on its December agenda and pass it as emergency legislation. Emergency legislation takes effect immediately; other bills take effect 60 days after passage.

Mr. Ecker wants the council to borrow the $1 million from a $6 million capital project to design and construct a yard-waste composting facility.

Council members received a chilling briefing from Mr. Ecker and public works director James M. Irvin last week on conditions at the 30-acre landfill site, which was closed in 1976.

Technicians wearing breathing apparatus have discovered more than 300 barrels at the site, many of which are contaminated with trichloroethylene, Mr. Ecker told council members.

Drinking water containing more than 5 parts per billion of the degreasing agent is considered unsafe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A test well at the site has turned up 3,000 parts per billion, Mr. Ecker said.

Trichloroethylene has caused cancer in laboratory animals and is considered a probable carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Residential well tests in the area have not shown contamination, but Cattail Creek, which adjoins the property, has shown low levels of trichloroethylene since 1991.

The county has spent more than $700,000 to clean up the site, Mr. Irvin said. The extra money is needed to remove, test and dispose of the remaining 55-gallon drums still on the site.

The extra $1 million is needed now, Mr. Irvin said, because the county must remove toxic material within 90 days of excavation. He said the county hopes to have all the drums removed by the end of December and dispose of them by February and March.

Following disposal, the Public Works Department would prepare site remediation report that would indicate the extent of the problem and the costs of capping the landfill and treating the ground water. Those costs are in addition to the $1 million now sought, Mr. Irvin said.

The cost of capping cells at Alpha Ridge, the county's current landfill, is $8 million to $9 million, Mr. Irvin said.

The likelihood of a similar discovery in Alpha Ridge is almost nil, Mr. Ecker said, because the drums at Carrs Mill were not found in the landfill itself, but on county-owned property adjacent to the landfill.

Officials say they have no idea where the barrels came from or how they got there, but they believe the drums have been in the ground since the early 1950s, when the county first purchased the land.

The most likely method of treatment of the site, Mr. Irvin said, is aeration. If that method is recommended, the county would have to build a permanent facility to pump the ground water to the surface, aerate it, and ensure that it doesn't run downhill, where it could further contaminate Cattail Creek.

In addition to dealing with the ground water, the county would have to remove and dispose of any contaminated soil found at the site, Mr. Irvin said.

Although the county stopped using the landfill in 1976, it continued to monitor test wells there. After the wells began showing low levels of contamination, the county embarked on a $1.4 million remediation program.

During a soil gas and vapor study Sept. 30 as part of that remediation, the county discovered two 55-gallon drums on the surface. As the drums were removed, more were discovered beneath them.

With each new removal, more drums were found. The number is now 307.

The spot where the drums were discovered is the only soil gas "hot spot" on the landfill property, said John J. O'Hara, chief of the Bureau of Environmental Services.

There have been readings of contaminants in other locations at the site, but they are concentrated where the drums are, he said.

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