Fish testing may yield Pa. landfill clues Pond data could show if chemicals borne by underground streams

Bass, bluegill collected

Traces of mercury found in soil samples near Superfund site

June 06, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Largemouth bass and bluegill from two northern Carroll County farm ponds hold important clues to whether toxic chemicals from a nearby Pennsylvania Superfund site are flowing south through underground streams.

About 40 fish were collected from the ponds near Keystone Sanitation Landfill yesterday, wrapped in aluminum foil and packed in dry ice.

The fish are on their way to a Seattle laboratory, where they will be tested to determine whether their bodies contain levels of mercury that would be dangerous to humans or predators who consume the fish.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the cleanup at Keystone, is testing the fish because of low levels of mercury found in nearby soil samples.

The agency plans to drill 12 new monitoring wells in the area to learn more about how water moves through underlying rock.

The new monitoring wells will add to existing information about water quality and help determine whether underground water is flowing from the landfill to northern Carroll County.

Keystone, a private landfill just over the Pennsylvania line in Adams County, was added to the Superfund cleanup list in 1987. The landfill, which accepted municipal and industrial waste, closed in 1990 after 24 years of operation.

Citizens groups in Pennsylvania and Maryland have long con- tended that Keystone was the source of pollution in the area.

The ponds chosen for the fish sampling "are potential areas that could be impacted by the landfill," said Christopher J. Corbett, a hydrogeologist and EPA project manager for the Keystone site.

"This pond is important in a number of ways," Corbett said as he watched workers seine for fish in a pond owned by Eric W. Ruppert, who lives on Humbert Schoolhouse Road.

Ruppert's pond is north of a small stream, a tributary of Piney Creek. The other pond is south of the stream. The locations may help answer whether the stream serves as a natural barrier to contaminants, Corbett said.

Corbett listed questions the EPA hopes to answer: Do the fish contain unusually high levels of mercury? Is it safe for people to eat fish from the ponds? Are kingfishers, blue herons and other predators ingesting mercury with the fish they eat?

Final results from the testing won't be available for 30 to 45 days.

The bluegill and bass from the ponds were generally healthy, said Gregory J. Kauffman, project scientist for Weston Inc., a New Jersey-based site assessment specialist under contract to test the ponds for EPA.

"Sick fish have eroded fins, tumors, lesions or open sores. This one has a good, deep color, with the melanin of a healthy fish," he said, pointing to a bluegill lying on a table where the fish were weighed, measured and packaged.

Kauffman found only one damaged fish, a bluegill that had lost a fin. The biologist speculated the fish could have been the loser in a fight over a breeding spot.

Most of the bass weighed about 170 to 250 grams, or 6 ounces to one-half pound. But one bass, which the technicians quickly named "Bubba," weighed 780 grams, or 1.7 pounds.

The seiners tried to get fish of the same size. Size indicates a fish's age, Kauffman said, which is important because lab tests will show how much mercury the fish ingested during its lifetime.

Public health officials say people don't become ill after ingesting small amounts of mercury. But the cumulative effect can damage kidneys and intestines.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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