Neighbors of tainted landfill want county to pay for their water

June 20, 1995|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

Marriottsville residents living near contaminated Alpha Ridge Landfill where carcinogens have been found in ground-water test wells said last night that the county needs to do better than offer them low-interest loans to hook up to public water.

"You've created a killer," Vincent Vecera told the County Council at a public hearing attended by about 60 affected residents. "You put a killer situation right in the middle of a beautiful county."

Although the cancer-causing contaminants have not shown up in residential wells near the landfill, residents believe it is only a matter of time before they do.

"People are living in fear each day -- not only what they drink, but when they shower," said Mr. Vecera, who lives behind the landfill on Old Frederick Road. "They don't know what's happening to their health."

Mr. Vecera told the council that he and the other 350 affected residents want justice. And justice, in the minds of most residents, means that the county will pay the cost of getting them hooked up to the county water system, residents said. They didn't create the landfill problem, they said, and they shouldn't have to pay to correct it.

Longtime residents such as Mr. Vecera and his neighbor, Al Starr, told the council that affected residents have suffered shabby treatment and betrayal at the hands of local government for years.

"Landfills are about power," Mr. Starr said. "Politicians assume that an area lacks political clout" when they put landfills there.

Once the landfills exist, the issue is trust, he said. "Can you trust the people who put it in and can you trust them to help you when there's a problem?"

Mr. Starr told the council that when the landfill was built two decades ago, residents were promised that it would not be expanded. Yet the county sought to do exactly that in 1992, he said. Then, when carcinogens were discovered in test wells at the landfill, it was a resident -- University of Maryland medical school biochemist Donald L. Gill -- who made that fact public, not county officials, Mr. Starr said.

Even now, the county did not let residents know it was planning to offer low-cost loans to pay thousands of dollars in water connection charges until a neighbor, L. Scott Muller, told them about it, Mr. Starr said. "There has been no discussion of money," he said. "If we hadn't heard from Scott, we wouldn't be here." Mr. Muller and Dr. Gill have been largely responsible for keeping their neighbors informed about the landfill situation.

Last night, Mr. Muller told the council that it would cost residents more than $100 a month to get drinking water even if they accepted the low-cost loans being offered by the county. That cost is "prohibitive" for most households, he said.

The Alpha Ridge Advisory Committee appointed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker is unanimous in its agreement that "residents deserve more than what is provided" in low-cost loans, Mr. Muller said.

Mr. Muller, who is a member of that committee, urged the council to do what Montgomery County did recently in a similar situation -- provide water service free to residents living near the contaminated landfill.

Mr. Starr told the council, "You created the problem in my house and in [neighbors'] houses." "You pay for it."

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