Rubble landfill rule revived State regulators intend to require liners at sites

Ground water at risk

Contaminants found in test wells at six facilities

December 23, 1996|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

An article in yesterday's Maryland section about disposal of construction debris incorrectly listed a landfill in Washington County among six that have no liners to prevent toxics from entering the ground water. The Washington County Rubble Landfill has a liner and a leachate collection system so that any toxics can be removed during water treatment.

The Sun regrets the error.

Acting on new evidence that construction rubble landfills in Maryland are polluting ground water, state environmental officials plan to require the facilities to install liners to protect neighboring drinking water wells.

The decision, disclosed last week, comes nearly two years after protests from rubble fill operators and local officials prompted the Maryland Department of the Environment to postpone and then withdraw a similar requirement proposed under Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"My job is to protect public health. I have to do something now," said Richard W. Collins, waste management director. Collins said the department plans to propose the new rubble landfill regulation early next year.

Rubble landfills take mostly harmless debris from construction and demolition, but the materials can include metals, paint and toxic chemicals. Critics also contend that toxic wastes are sometimes hidden amid the huge truckloads of debris dumped at such facilities.

Though costly, plastic or clay liners can prevent contaminated water from seeping from the debris into ground water and flowing into residential wells or nearby streams.

A state review found unsafe levels of iron, lead, manganese and arsenic in monitoring wells at six rubble fills, including four where state inspectors had never found evidence of improper disposal of toxic wastes. The contaminants were below federal drinking water thresholds, but high enough to pose a risk of cancer or other health problems if tainted water was consumed over a lifetime.

The unsafe levels were detected in monitoring wells at five active and one closed rubble fill. The active facilities are Days Cove in Baltimore County; Oak Avenue in Harford County; the R. B. Baker landfill in Queen Anne's County; Hunting Creek in Dorchester County; and a newly opened facility in Washington County. One closed landfill, Al-Ray in Anne Arundel County, also was checked.

No evidence exists that the contamination has seeped into ground water off the rubble fill sites, but Collins said the contaminants could pollute nearby wells unless something is done now to prevent it. If the new regulation is adopted, the liner would be required immediately on all new rubble fills, Collins said. Existing facilities would get perhaps three or four years to follow suit or shut down.

The agency is reviewing six applications for new or expanded rubble fills. Fifteen now are permitted.

"That's exactly what we've been pushing for for some time," said Clark S. Aist, chairman of the Maryland Community Preservation Coalition, a citizens' group fighting rubble fills.

The state's failure to tighten regulation of a major cog in the real estate industry had been criticized by Aist and others living near rubble fills. They accused the Glendening administration of jeopardizing drinking water supplies by caving in to pressure from operators of rubble fills, five of which are owned by county governments.

State officials said they withdrew their earlier proposal to require liners on all rubble fills after private industry and local officials complained about the costs and questioned the need. Installing liners can cost $100,000 per acre for new facilities, but up to pTC $600,000 per acre for retrofitting older landfills.

Industry officials warned that liners could drive up the price of new housing by making it more expensive to dispose of the debris from building projects.

A state task force set up to find alternatives to the liner requirement recommended three less costly measures in the fall, including requiring independent checkers of rubble for illegal wastes and banning disposal of debris that has been shredded.

Industry and county officials had disputed previous state reports of rubble-related contamination, contending that any ground-water problems came from a couple of now-closed dumps run by "bad operators."

But Collins said the new study suggests that even well-run rubble fills may be contaminating ground water. The study indicates that the state was wrong to assume that construction rubble is harmless, he said.

Pamela S. Metz, spokeswoman for the Maryland-D.C.-Delaware Solid Waste Association, said rubble fill operators want to review the state study before commenting.

Most states on the East Coast have stronger controls on rubble landfills than Maryland does to keep tainted water out of streams and residential wells, according to a survey by Florida officials.

Pub Date: 12/23/96

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