Westminster rethinking source of well's pollution New tests indicate taint may not come from gasoline additive

January 30, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Whatever is contaminating a Westminster public water well, it may not be the cancer-causing leaded gasoline additive that the Maryland Department of the Environment identified two months ago.

The well, in the county air business center near Business Parkway North and Aileron Drive, has been closed since November 1995.

City officials closed the well after the Maryland Department of the Environment reported that tests showed the well water contained concentrations of ethylene dibromide that exceeded federal standards.

Subsequent tests done for the city government raised the possibility that the contaminant might not be ethylene dibromide, but rather one of several chemically similar compounds that are safe in higher concentrations in drinking water.

"We don't want to draw any conclusions yet," said Thomas B. Beyard, the Westminster public works director. He said several contaminants are close together on the chemical spectrum and could be mistaken for each other.

John Grace, chief of source protection and administration for MDE's Water Management Administration, said the agency had three test samples from the well, all showing the presence of ethylene dibromide, before MDE asked Westminster to shut the well down.

He said the MDE will schedule more tests in light of the city's recent results.

"We can't come out and say one way or the other that there's been a change. We don't have the data to say we were wrong. But we do have the data to say we should investigate," Mr. Grace said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says safe drinking water should contain no more than .05 parts per billion of ethylene dibromide. The air business center well contained .29 parts per billion.

The federal standard for concentrations of ethylene dibromide in water is very low, "so it's just hard to spot," Mr. Grace said. He TTC said its chemical similarity to other compounds also makes it "a very tricky compound to analyze for."

If additional tests show that the substance in the well doesn't exceed federal safety standards, the MDE could give the city clearance return the well to use, Mr. Grace said.

Westminster has plenty of water and is not under pressure to get the air business center well back on line, Mr. Beyard said. When in use, the well supplies 3 percent of the average 2 million gallons of water used daily by city customers.

Although most cars use unleaded gasoline, which does not contain ethylene dibromide, small airplanes still use leaded fuel. The air business center includes the county airport.

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