Landfill-tainted water causes fear

February 18, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

Conditions at the Howard County landfill in Marriottsville are worsening so quickly that the county needs to move immediately to bring public water to the area, residents told the Planning Board last night.

They asked the board to urge County Executive Charles I. Ecker to move a $6.7 million capital project ahead to the coming fiscal year to bring water to the area. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Public Works Director James M. Irvin asked only for plans and engineering money in the coming budget. He planned to seek the $6.1 million needed for 68,000 feet of water main, a pumping station and an elevated water storage tank in fiscal 1996.

Residents said that was not enough. They learned this week that cancer-causing contaminants have been found in a test well on the landfill north of the Little Patuxent River. The contaminants had been found earlier in landfill test wells south of the river.

County experts had sought to allay fears that the contamination might spread to nearby residential wells by saying it could not cross the Little Patuxent, but now it has, said L. Scott Muller, a nearby resident.

"We fear for the health of our families," he said. "We want the county to do the right thing, and that starts with providing us safe drinking water."

None of the cancer-causing contaminants has shown up in residential wells, but the latest test results indicate that the situation is "very, very dire," said Donald L. Gill, a nearby resident and a biochemist at the University of Maryland.

The latest results show the presence of cancer-causing agents "several hundredfold above what is considered safe" by the Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Gill said. Whenever any of his neighbors becomes ill with cancer, they ask him whether he thinks the landfill caused it, Dr. Gill said. Although he tells them that is not likely and would be impossible to prove given the number of peoplelikely to get cancer anyway, the fear is still there, he said.

"Danger is a perceived thing," he told the board. "If you perceive a danger, you are in danger. People [near the landfill] believe they are under a grave threat," since they don't know whether cancer discoveries are related to landfill conditions, he said.

Jack Faulkner, a Marriottsville resident who lives "within walking distance" of the well where the most recent carcinogens were discovered, is one of those who is scared.

"What Dr. Gill says shakes me up," Mr. Faulkner said. "I have a wife and three children. We drink the water daily. Our wells are inspected quarterly, but quarterly inspections are not enough. We have no purifying system. I am deeply concerned."

Mr. Faulkner, Mr. Muller and Dr. Gill were among the more than 175 people who showed up at last night's Planning Board hearing to testify about projects that might be included in the fiscal 1995 capital budget.

Most of the other people attending the hearing had come to testify against a $50,000 request for a preliminary study of a sports facility at Benson Branch Park.

Residents told the board that they want the park to remain in its natural state. The money had been requested by a Columbia soccer group that wants to put an indoor stadium and 10 soccer fields on the site, residents said.

Parks and Recreation Director Jeffrey Bourne told the board he was re-evaluating the proposal.

Money for the study was sought in response to a request from a community group, he said, but the group has not followed up on the request.


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