Landfill meeting tonight

May 12, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Residents near the closed New Cut Road Landfill in Ellicott City have, for the most part, remained quiet about their contaminant-leaking neighbor.

That may change today during a 7:30 p.m. meeting at Worthington Elementary School about the extent of pollution emanating from the facility and plans to clean it up.

After trying to decipher a 5-inch-thick report on the landfill, which accepted trash from 1947 until 1981, neighbors -- several of whom have contaminated wells -- will get a chance to ask questions. They'll quiz experts from Virginia-based GeoTrans Inc., who prepared the $300,000 study, and county officials charged with addressing the problem.

Kelly Snovell, 38, who grew up in the area and built a house next door to the site shortly after it was closed, has a number of concerns.

"The school is right on top of that hill," he said Tuesday afternoon, pointing beyond the tree line that separates his lawn from the giant mound of trash, covered with earth and grass.

Next to Worthington Elementary School is a vent for methane gas generated by the decomposition process.

Mr. Snovell said he wonders if enough gas is being collected.

"Can you smell that? That's methane," he said.

"Do you notice something else?"

The sound of children playing at Worthington Elementary echoed through the trees.

Mr. Snovell said he worries about how much of the flammable gas might be collecting under the school and its parking lot.

County officials are prepared to answer such questions tonight.

"It's been taken care of," said Public Works Director James M. Irvin of the chance of methane getting into or under the school.

"There's a continuous monitoring device in the school . . . to pick up any potential leaks or mistakes," Mr. Irvin said.

An underground grout curtain prevents methane or other contaminants from migrating toward the school, he said.

In the meantime, Mr. Snovell said county officials have approached him and other property owners about arranging meetings to talk about compensation for their losses from the contamination.

But residents are anxious to hear plain-English explanations of the health risks outlined in the study and how the county plans to address them before going to settlement.

"I don't think we've settled with anybody, so the timing is purely coincidental," Mr. Irvin said.

The county sent requests for meetings with residents, he said, because a new water main is now ready to be hooked up to homes along New Cut Road. The county wants people to get public water as soon as possible, he said.

If residents want to wait to get additional information, that will not jeopardize their chances of getting a county-subsidized hookup, Mr. Irvin said.

Mr. Irvin said the county is anxious to negotiate how much of the water and sewer hookup costs it will pay. "I think we would try to settle any claims that they may have as part of the whole process here," he said.

Mr. Snovell is particularly interested in what the county will do for him, because his residential well is about 220 feet from a contaminated well called N-15.

That well was one of the monitoring wells used to measure the extent of contamination in the landfill.

On a map showing wells in the consultant's report, N-15 is the only one not connected to a label showing the contaminants found in its ground water -- the draftsman preparing the map had to find room for it and its 28 varieties of contaminants on the edge of the map.

Volatile organic compounds, generally solvents or the byproducts of solvent breakdown, appear in dangerous quantities on the list. Acetone, benzene, butanone, dichloroethene, toluene, trichloroethene are among the chemicals Mr. Snovell -- who can barely pronounce some of them -- said he worries about at night.

Only one of those compounds, dichloroethene, has been found in a trace amount in Mr. Snovell's residential well, however.

The county has provided him with a charcoal treatment system to remove such contaminants, and he expects to get water hooked up to his home without charge.

Reaching the crest of the landfill mound on Tuesday, Mr. Snovell compared the nearly pristine features of the grassy summit, which has the look of unmowed athletic fields, to its sides.

As happened with many landfills, a park had been planned for the New Cut site until contamination was discovered there.

"Take a look at all the mature trees with deep roots -- they're all dead," Mr. Snovell said, sweeping the skyline with his hand.

Moving down the mound, he pointed out a place -- one of many -- where rust-brown liquid had apparently oozed from the ground, staining the grass.

Chunks of polystyrene appear here and there along the hillside, and along an illegal access road, numerous plastic items and what appeared to be a machine part lay exposed.

"They've been here for three years," Mr. Snovell said of experts and county workers studying the landfill. "They could at least make an attempt to cover up the trash."

Mr. Irvin acknowledged the problem.

"We have a problem with people running off-road vehicles . . . so we have to go in and repair that. That is a legitimate problem, and we have to work at that."

He said the situation should change after the county installs a permanent plastic cap and closes access to vehicles.

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