Weedkiller maker may pay for water

January 31, 1995|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

The nation's largest manufacturer of the weedkiller that tainted residential wells near Fort Meade is offering to help pay for putting affected residents on the public water system.

A spokesman for Ciba-Geigy Corp. said yesterday that the company is not assuming liability but is offering to defray the county's costs because it is the country's largest maker of atrazine, a broad-leaf weedkiller it has been producing since 1959.

"We want to make sure the public knows that we are going to take care of these families," said Rex Martin, a Ciba-Geigy spokesman.

Mr. Martin said company officials plan to meet tomorrow with Anne Arundel County and state environmental officials to discuss test results and to offer to help pay for the public water connections.

Tests last fall determined that wells at eight homes along Old Waugh Chapel Road had been tainted with atrazine, a suspected carcinogen. At five homes, the level reached or exceeded federal drinking water limits. Three others showed lower levels of contamination.

Since then, residents have been drinking bottled water or running their household water supply through activated charcoal filters while they waited for public water to be extended to them.

Just before leaving office in December, County Executive Robert R. Neall said the county would extend the public water system to residences with tainted wells for free.

He waived the $4,650 public water hookup fee for each family, and the county paid the plumbing costs of connecting the homes to the water main, said Lisa Ritter, spokeswoman for the county land use office. Those costs vary, depending on the distance between the plumbing connection for the house and the pipe that hooks into the water main on Old Waugh Chapel Road.

The county expects to complete the last hookup this week, she said.

It is unclear how much the public water hookups cost the county, because the work is not completed and county officials have not finished tallying the costs.

County officials said only Ciba-Geigy has offered to help pay for the public water connections.

Atrazine has a variety of agricultural uses and is commonly used to control weeds near roads and railroad tracks. The affected area near Odenton has farms, highways and railroads.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has not identified the source of the well poisoning. Fort Meade's Active Sanitary Landfill, opened in 1958, is suspected. How long that and a second Fort Meade landfill have been leaking is unknown, but a 1992 Army report identified them as potential sources of pollution. Officials said that if the base was found to be the source, it would help with the cleanup.

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