Perilous lead levels found in three local, Pa. wells Homeowners live near closed landfill on EPA cleanup list

March 07, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Three homeowners near Keystone Landfill have dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. One affected well is in Pennsylvania; two are in northern Carroll County.

The EPA scheduled repeat tests last week on the three wells near the closed private landfill in Adams County, Pa., which was put on EPA's Superfund cleanup list in 1987. The landfill ceased operation in 1990.

Families who agree to have their well water tested as part of the EPA's program to monitor the area around the landfill are promised confidentiality. But Christopher J. Corbett, the EPA's project manager for the Keystone site, said at least one family with high lead in its water has children "and one has grandchildren who visit."

The test results showing high lead levels came seven months after tests revealed high levels of thallium, once used in rat poison, in four Pennsylvania wells. Eating or drinking large amounts of thallium for short periods can affect the nervous system, heart, lungs and liver, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the U.S. Public Health Service.

Three of the well owners accepted the EPA's offer of bottled water. The source of the thallium has not been identified.

Lead poses greater risk to children than to adults, the toxic substances agency said. Lead swallowed by infants and young children can decrease intelligence scores, slow growth and cause behavior problems. The agency said adults who are exposed to high levels of lead can suffer brain and kidney damage.

Test results showed lead levels in the three wells at 17, 45 and 207 parts per billion. The EPA considers lead levels higher than 15 parts per billion dangerous. Two other wells in the sample had lead levels of 15 parts per billion.

The EPA has been testing residential wells within 1 1/2 miles of the landfill about every four months since summer 1994. The agency has a core of 16 wells that are always tested and alternates sampling 15 to 16 others, said EPA spokesman Harold Yates.

Mary Minor, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania group Citizens Urge Rescue of the Environment, and Sue Komick, a member of the Maryland group People Against Contamination of the Environment, said they haven't received any comments or questions from the well owners.

"But Chris Corbett said he called the families immediately," Mrs. Minor said.

Health officials say they will advise the families to have children tested for blood lead levels.

Results from the most recent tests should be available in three to four weeks, Mr. Corbett said. The EPA will send the test data to University of Maryland for a lead isotope study to try to identify the source of the lead.

Lead can be traced to its source because isotopes of lead differ, said Eirik Krogstad, assistant professor of geology at University of Maryland College Park. Lead that might be leaking into ground water from the landfill would have a different isotopic composition from that of lead pipe solder or lead in bedrock.

The source won't be known until June or July because the lead isotope study will be a senior thesis project for a geology student, Dr. Krogstad said. "We could have the analysis during one day if we had the labor," he said.

Pub Date: 3/07/96

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