Carcinogens in wells tied to landfill EPA tests indicate first direct link to Superfund site

'A pretty strong argument'

Keystone, now closed, is just across state line in Pa.

June 13, 1996|By A SUN STAFF WRITER

Cancer-causing chemicals that were found in residential wells near Keystone Sanitation Landfill may have provided the first direct link between toxic chemicals buried at the Superfund cleanup site and neighboring water supplies.

High levels of vinyl chloride turned up in one well and pentachlorophenol in two others in March tests on about 70 residential wells that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has monitored regularly since February 1994. The chemicals did not appear in detectable levels in follow-up tests two weeks ago, but experts say such an erratic pattern is not uncommon.

Both chemicals have been present in the past at even higher levels in monitoring wells at the closed landfill, said Christopher J. Corbett, the EPA's project manager for the site.

Keystone, a private operation in Adams County, Pa., across the border from Carroll County, was added to the EPA's Superfund list in 1987.

"The vinyl chloride and PCP in wells close to the landfill, to me that makes a pretty strong argument that they are from the landfill," Corbett told a Keystone task force at its meeting Tuesday. The group of local government officials and residents monitors the cleanup effort.

In the past, the EPA and Pennsylvania and Maryland health officials have said that contaminants in wells near Keystone could have come from other sources.

With the recent findings, Corbett said, "It's a direct correlation. We're seeing contaminants in the off-site wells that are in the on-site wells."

The contaminated wells are in Pennsylvania. EPA officials would not identify the property owners. Corbett said the homeowners had been notified of the test results.

Vinyl chloride, a solvent used in making plastics, was present in amounts five times higher than the EPA's "action level" in a well at a house Corbett described as "fairly new construction." The house is within 2,500 feet of the landfill.

When a contaminant reaches the action level in samples taken from a public water supply, the EPA requires the municipality to reduce the amount of the contaminant to safe levels for drinking.

Pentachlorophenol, which is used in wood preservatives, was present in another well at 25 times the level that the EPA rates as risky for tap water. That well is near the landfill's eastern edge.

At a third well, near the landfill's northern border, pentachlorophenol was detected at nearly double the risk level, which EPA considers a less-serious concern.

The government doesn't regulate private water supplies the way it regulates public systems.

"You put the person on notice, give him sufficient information that he can make a reasonable decision, which may be to treat the water or may be to bring in bottled water," said Charles L. Zeleski, assistant director of environmental health for the Carroll County Health Department.

The high levels of the chemicals would have prompted the EPA to supply the affected homeowners with bottled water or well filters if follow-up tests had shown the same results, Corbett said.

"It's not surprising with a site like the Keystone landfill, that is such a nonhomogenous source, that you don't see contaminants at the same time at the same wells," Corbett said. "I think the important thing when you see contaminants out in residential wells is to look back at the landfill and see if the landfill is a potential source and also to look at the potential for transport. I think the case for these two is very strong."

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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