Digging deeper at Keystone landfill Carroll County: Neighbors deserve to know health risks of their drinking water.

February 06, 1997

KEYSTONE SANITATION landfill has been leaking toxics for years. Poisons have been found in wells on and around the 35-acre site in Pennsylvania, just over the northern Carroll County border. It was listed as a federal Superfund hazardous waste cleanup location a decade ago.

Yet residents of the area still lack a satisfactory answer to the basic question of human health: Is my well water safe to drink?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is developing the Superfund treatment plan scheduled to begin this spring, has spent $50,000 to sample residential wells near the landfill. But tests of water samples have proven inconsistent, with some toxics detected yet without a clear pattern of contamination.

The experts still do not know in detail where and how far the pollution has spread. About 3,500 people, who mostly rely on well water, live within three miles of the site. Christopher J. Corbett, the EPA project manager, says the agency awaits a comprehensive report on samples from 175 residential wells, after which it will try to assess the health risks of those drinking water supplies.

There have been no emergencies yet, but neither is there evidence that leaching from the unlined dump has been contained. EPA offered bottled water to several homes in 1995 where a poison was found in well water samples. But there is no current program for supplying alternative sources of water.

EPA has dragged its heels on assessing the health risks of Keystone. It has focused on working out a plan with the owner and 11 contributing polluters there, and it has approached the problem as an engineering challenge rather than a community health concern.

Now EPA plans to proceed with an $11 million cleanup before the residents' most important question is answered. The agency will cap the landfill with a plastic liner, pump polluted water from pTC the ground and treat it, and burn off methane gas generated by decomposing garbage. But pumping out the ground water could disrupt well water supplies of neighbors in the process, another complication.

Public fears of Keystone's danger may be exaggerated. But that is all the more reason for EPA to provide prompt, reliable information on the safety of the drinking water.

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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