Options offered to deal with contaminated dirt

March 16, 1995|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Now that workers have removed nearly 900 drums of hazardous waste dumped illegally at the closed Carr's Mill Landfill in Woodbine, county officials are struggling with what do to with the leftover contaminated material.

Next month, those officials will present neighbors of the landfill with four alternatives for the open pit tainted with cancer-causing chemicals and the contaminated dirt that came from that pit:

* Put the earth back into the pit, run pipes through it to collect toxic vapor, filter the vapor and release it, at a cost of $92,000 -- the county's preferred option.

* Scoop the 1,300 cubic yards of stockpiled dirt back into the dump site and cover it with clay and clean dirt, at a cost of $27,000,

* Have the dirt packed up and shipped to a hazardous waste landfill for $1.2 million.

* Remove the dirt, as in the third option, and then proceed with vapor extraction at the site, which would cost a total of somewhat more than $1.2 million.

The goal of all those options is to keep more water from percolating through the soil and further contaminating local ground water near the dump site, which is a few hundred yards north of where Carr's Mill and Bushy Park roads intersect.

"We think that soil vapor extraction is an effective method of doing immediate remediation," said John J. O'Hara, chief of the county's Bureau of Waste Management.

If the county were to choose to spend $1.2 million on removing the dirt, he added, "It's questionable whether the results would be better, and that's mainly because you're not going to be able get it [the dirt] all out."

Officials will present the plans to area residents at a meeting at 7:30 p.m. April 5 at Bushy Park Elementary School, and they are likely to get a wide range of responses.

Susan M. Miller, who can sit on her front porch and see the orange plastic mesh that marks the dump site's boundary, is suspicious of anything county public works officials say about the ground water and stream contamination.

Since the late 1980s, samples from Cattail Creek and from wells drilled on the landfill property have shown increasing levels of solvents such as trichloroethene, known as TCE. The grease-cutting chemical was found in large quantities in some of the drums on the site.

Other drums contained highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, known as PCBs. Paints and unknown benign substances turned up in still other drums. About 400 drums were empty or crushed.

Knowing all that, Ms. Miller says she is worried about the safety of her well water, even though county tests of residential wells have not shown contamination.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker appointed Ms. Miller, an attorney, to the landfill citizen advisory committee. Rather than reassuring her, she said, sitting on the committee has reinforced her belief that county officials are failing to give straight answers to citizens about the landfill.

She says she wants to make certain that, at a minimum, the county extracts toxic vapors from the contaminated soil and filters it, but doubts the county will do that unless forced to by state environmental regulators.

On the other side of Carr's Mill Road, about 100 yards south of the landfill property, Thomas Bianco says he, his wife and three children all drink their well water without fear.

"I think the county's done a tremendous job of handling this situation. They've worked at it; they haven't walked away from it," says Mr. Bianco, a financial analyst for the federal government who has lived at the corner of Carr's Mill and Bushy Park roads for 14 years.

He says he believes the county should keep its cleanup work to a minimum.

"Once you eliminate the barrels of contaminants, then you should fill it back in and monitor the [residential] wells," he says. "I think you shouldn't spend the money [on further cleanup] until you've tried that method."

When a cleanup scheme is chosen after the April 5 meeting, work will begin on the dump site, said Mr. O'Hara. After a year, the county will begin work on a waterproof covering for the entire landfill.

While the cap is being built, systems for pumping and treating contaminated ground water and collecting methane gas -- a normal landfill byproduct -- also will be installed. The three items combined are expected to cost between $5.3 million and $6.6 million.

Similar measures are planned for the county's closed New Cut Road landfill in Ellicott City and its only operating landfill, Alpha Ridge in Marriottsville, both of which also have ground water contamination problems.

Meanwhile, as public works officials and their environmental consultants fret over how to clean up the Carr's Mill site, county lawyers are seeking help to pay for the work.

Although the county Office of Law refuses to release any details, the names of several companies are connected to the illegally dumped drums in documents kept by the state Department of the Environment.

The company name appearing most often on the 50 or so drums that still had labels was Western Electric Co. Labels showed the address of the company's former plant on Broening Highway in Dundalk -- now the home of the Department of the Environment.

Officials believe the drums were dumped in the mid-1970s. In July 1976, police caught a Baltimore waste hauler, run by a cousin of the landfill supervisor, dumping 101 drums. The hauler told police that Western Electric was one of the sources.

Trish Geoghegan, a spokeswoman for AT&T Corp., the parent corporation of the successor to Western Electric, said the county last month asked the company for monetary help with the cleanup. The county and corporation are negotiating, she said.

County Solicitor Barbara Cook refused to comment on any claims the county is making except to say that it had not taken any legal action.

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