County plans to treat contaminated water

February 01, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Pumping and treating contaminated ground water under the Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville should virtually eliminate the chance that residential wells would become polluted, county officials and environmental consultants told Marriottsville residents last night.

"This would almost guarantee that [contaminants] would never get off the property," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

The possibility of contamination already has scared many landfill

neighbors into drinking bottled water or buying additional treatment systems.

Mr. Ecker said he hoped the meeting would set residents' minds at ease about their water for the next two years or so, after which the county plans to pipe public water to the area.

The treatment system was recommended in a $112,000 study by environmental consultants from Virginia-based Tetra-Tech Inc. and its subsidiary, GeoTrans Inc. Estimated to cost $475,650 to set up and about $56,000 a year to operate, the system would pump water out of the ground, aerate it to allow solvents to evaporate, treat the vapors and release the water into the Little Patuxent River.

Officials from Mr. Ecker's office and the county public works and health departments were as numerous as residents at the meeting at Waverly Woods Elementary School, which was announced in a landfill newsletter some residents apparently had not received.

The meeting was the first chance residents had to comment publicly on the report, which was made public early last month.

"We believe that it is extremely unlikely that residential wells would be contaminated," said Bob Cohen, a ground water expert from GeoTrans.

That was small consolation to residents, some of whom live a short walk from the monitoring well with the highest levels of contaminants.

One of those residents, Jack Faulkner, said his water was last tested in October by the county health department, and before that, in May.

"If [the monitoring well] is as high as it is, testing twice a year is not enough," he said.

Mr. Ecker responding by telling health officials to test the well more frequently. After the meeting, Mr. Faulkner was told that his well would be tested quarterly.

Sean Donohoe, a health-risk expert from Tetra-Tech, told residents that the main contaminants that are finding their way out of the landfill, solvents found in grease-cutters, paint thinners and dry cleaning fluids, pose no hazard to residents or to animals using the Little Patuxent River.

Low levels of contaminants have been detected in the river itself, and the report concludes that contaminated ground water under the landfill eventually drains into the river or its tributaries.

Mr. Donohoe also noted that contaminants associated with the landfill have not turned up in residential wells.

Solvent levels more than 100 times federal drinking water standards have turned up in monitoring wells on the landfill property.

Landfill activist Dr. Donald L. Gill, a biochemistry professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, questioned the consultants' assertion that one chemical found in a residential well north of the landfill was a "laboratory contaminant." He said there was a "clear pattern" of the chemical, methylene chloride, turning up in high levels in landfill monitoring wells.

Another activist, L. Scott Muller, questioned the consultants' conclusion that ground water from the landfill was flowing only north, east and southeast of the landfill's leaking clay-lined cell.

He said the findings were influenced by findings of contamination on the landfill's north side. A more accurate assessment might come from drilling more monitoring wells around the landfill and measuring their ground water levels, Mr. Muller said.

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