Pollutants turn up in two wells

May 09, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Cancer-causing solvents found in half of the 839 drums illegally dumped at the Carrs Mill Landfill have been discovered in water sources at two nearby homes and in a creek two miles from the closed facility, according to a draft consultants' study released last week.

The $193,000 study of ground water pollution from the 20-acre landfill, which was open from 1953 to 1977, is the last to be completed by Virginia-based GeoTrans Inc.

Studies of the Carrs Mill facility in Woodbine and the New Cut Road Landfill in Ellicott City -- both closed -- and the operating Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville, examine the extent of pollution, assess its health threat and recommend cleanup methods.

The county recently completed a project bringing public water to homes near the New Cut site. The new system will replace wells where water is polluted, apparently from the landfill.

Tests of residential wells near the other two landfills have shown only minute traces of toxic solvents.

Since October, hazardous waste cleanup crews in head-to-foot protective gear have been removing drums from the 20-acre Carrs Mill site at Woodbine, just south of the Carroll-Howard line. With no more drums in the current excavation, cleanup crews are using sophisticated metal detectors to see if there are other pockets of buried drums.

"With the illegal dumping of hazardous material, it really makes that worse than the other two landfills," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

To date, the county has spent $1.1 million to dig up and dispose of the 55-gallon drums. Cleaning up and preventing further pollution could cost an additional $6 million.

The drums were believed to have been buried illegally between 15 and 20 years ago. County lawyers, relying on markings on some of the drums, are trying to find the sources of the containers.

"We do have an investigation on the way, and we have contacted a number of people [and] firms," Mr. Ecker said. County officials have withheld the names of suspected parties, arguing that publicly identifying them could harm officials' efforts.

Mr. Ecker said he thought it was "very probable" the county could recover some of the cleanup costs.

Although a trace of the carcinogen trichloroethane (TCE) was found once last year in untreated well water at Olga S. Rosser's home on Bushy Park Road, Ms. Rosser said she is confident the county will take care of any problems.

"I like it here, and I'm staying here. I wouldn't think of moving out of here," Ms. Rosser said.

Ms. Rosser uses a filtration system to remove solvents and other contaminants from her well water.

The amount of contaminant found in her well was 2 parts per billion. The safe drinking water limit for TCE set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is 5 parts per billion. Nothing has turned up in tests since then, the report says.

Monitoring wells on landfill property in the area where the drums were found produced TCE levels of more than 3,000 parts per billion.

Susan M. Miller, who lives across Carrs Mill Road from the cleanup site, said she was surprised that the study found that her home's well water had hazardous levels of metals.

"The county has been testing our water, and when they discovered there had been heavy metals in our water, they reported them and said there was no risk," Ms. Miller said.

"Not only is it risky here in this report, but it's a very high risk."

She said she is suspicious of the report's conclusion that the contaminants did not come from the landfill, because only those homes closest to the facility showed high levels of the contaminants. Ms. Miller, a Washington attorney, said she has spent nearly $30,000 for private consultants to study her ground water.

The report also shows that TCE was found in trace amounts in Cattail Creek as far as two miles downstream from the landfill. No contaminants were found upstream.

Because of the properties of TCE and similar compounds found in ground water at the landfill, county officials say they expect to adopt the consultants' recommendation to pump out ground water and aerate it, or mix it with air bubbles.

The treated water would then be pumped into a nearby stream such as Cattail Creek. The cost of the collection and treatment system is estimated to be $680,000.

The report also recommends capping the landfill with plastic to keep rainwater from percolating through it, and installing a system to vent methane gas -- a byproduct of rotting garbage.

The recommendations, including capping, venting and operating costs, are expected to cost between $5.3 million and $6.6 million.

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