Study links tainted wells to Ellicott City dump

March 13, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

When G. William Ekloff Jr. moved to New Cut Road in Ellicott City during World War II, there were no "sanitary landfills" in the county. Trash went to the dump.

Back then, the dump was near College Avenue in what is now the historic district. Later, county tax authorities took over a farm on New Cut Road across the road from Mr. Ekloff, and in 1947, it became the new dump.

"Anybody dumped. They didn't regulate anything back then. They used to burn it, and the ash used to fly over here, in the wind," he recalled.

For the next 34 years, the trash piled up on the 85-acre property.

In 1970, the burning was stopped to prevent air pollution. The trash was covered with dirt, and the dump became a landfill.

In 1981, it was replaced by a "state-of-the-art" clay-lined landfill in Marriottsville, and the dumping stopped.

But the trash is still there on New Cut Road. According to a draft report by an environmental consultant, it continues to pollute streams and the underground aquifers that feed Mr. Ekloff's well.

The $300,000 study by Virginia-based GeoTrans Inc. also assesses the health risks from the air- and water-borne contaminants and recommends methods of cleaning them up.

Health authorities' tests have shown the wells of seven homes, including Mr. Ekloff's, to be contaminated with solvents such as trichloroethene and vinyl chloride, some of which are believed to cause cancer in humans.

The county has for several years provided a treatment system for five homes, including Mr. Ekloff's, and bottled water for the other two.

Work was recently completed on a $628,000 water main for those homes, and officials are now preparing to hook up houses to the line.

But even if the residents drank and showered in untreated water xTC for 30 years, their risk of developing cancer would be within levels considered acceptable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the report says.

The draft report, made available last week by county Public Works Director James M. Irvin, is expected to be reviewed by county officials and released in its final form in about two weeks.

Of the three cleanup programs recommended in the report, Mr. Irvin said the county is likely to choose the most effective -- and expensive -- option.

That option, estimated to cost $8.4 million, would involve pumping water from the ground, aerating it to allow the solvents to evaporate, and releasing it into a stream that flows into Tiber Creek, a Patapsco River tributary that runs through Ellicott City's historic district.

The system would remain in place as long as contaminants continue to leach from the landfill, perhaps 30 years.

Mr. Irvin said that method will probably also be used to clean up ground water contamination at the county's only operating landfill, Alpha Ridge in Marriottsville, and at the Carrs Mill landfill in Woodbine, which closed in 1976.

While most of the contaminants leaching from the three landfills are believed to come from ordinary household trash, field work on a companion study of the Carrs Mill facility led to the discovery of 55-gallon drums of hazardous waste believed buried for decades. Cleanup crews have unearthed more than 650 drums.

No verifiable contamination of residential wells near Alpha Ridge and Carrs Mill has shown up in water samples collected by the county Health Department.

The most expensive part of the cleanup method proposed for the New Cut Road landfill would be a plastic cap estimated to cost $5.6 million. Placed atop the landfill, the cap would prevent rainwater from washing more wastes into the ground water.

John O'Hara, chief of the Bureau of Environmental Services, which oversees landfill operations, said that the county has not ruled out improvements to the existing sandy clay cap, which would cost only $285,000.

That option would be less effective than a plastic cap, but could be offset by a more effective treatment system, the report said.

Another recommendation the county is likely to adopt, Mr. Irvin said, is the installation of an improved system to collect and burn off methane gas generated by decomposing garbage at the New Cut Road landfill.

After the landfill was closed, officials had hoped that the methane could be used as a fuel. The idea was scrapped, however, because of problems with the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., which was reluctant to buy the gas, Mr. Irvin said.

An idea to use the gas to heat and power the neighboring Worthington Elementary School also was scrapped, Mr. Irvin said, because officials considered a back-up power arrangement with BG&E too costly.

"We're thinking about looking into that again," Mr. Irvin said.

Officials have not said whether the county or homeowners will bear the cost of hooking up homes with contaminated wells to the new water line. The county could pay some or all of the cost, but that decision will negotiated with individual property owners, said Mr. Irvin.

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