2 new issues arise in fight over landfill Group must address threatened lawsuit, EPA-contracted study

'Very distressing'

Report says Keystone is likely not polluting most Maryland wells

April 17, 1997|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

A group of northern Carroll residents that has fought for more than a decade to clean up the Keystone Landfill is facing two new issues: a threatened lawsuit against the group's leader and an EPA-contracted study that rules out the landfill as the pollution source for most nearby residential wells.

A lawyer representing the owners of Keystone, a Superfund cleanup site, has told Susan D. Hardinger she will face legal action if she continues to speak out. Hardinger is president of People Against Contamination of the Environment (PACE), a Silver Run area group.

Attorney W. Roger Truitt, representing landfill owners Kenneth and Anna Noel, made his comments to Hardinger on Tuesday night after a meeting of the task force that works with the Environmental Protection Agency on the landfill cleanup. Keystone, a closed private landfill 300 yards north of the Mason-Dixon Line, has been on the EPA's Superfund list since 1987.

Hydrogeologists working under contract for the environmental agency reported to the task force that a new study shows the landfill is not a source of contamination of well water in Maryland, except possibly for a handful of Carroll households north of the stream.

The study concluded that a nameless tributary to Piney Creek that runs northeast to southwest through a valley near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border forms a natural barrier. It takes in water that flows south from the landfill and north from Humbert Schoolhouse Road.

After the meeting, Truitt told Hardinger that she could face legal action if she continues to make comments and ask questions that he feels are inaccurate at public task force meetings.

Truitt said that his comments were not intended to silence Hardinger but that he believes some of her statements were based on inaccurate information and that she questioned the Noels' motives. He said other members of the task force "seem to have a better understanding and to be more respectful" of the landfill owners.

"I'm not there trying to threaten anyone," Truitt said. "I'm trying to protect my clients' interests. In the past, a lot of statements have been made, including by EPA, that were not factually based."

Hardinger said she knows that environmental activists risk lawsuits, but "it's frightening to me to actually hear the words spoken."

The point of task force meetings, she said, is to ask questions and get accurate information.

"It was very distressing and I was shaken by the way he spoke to me," Hardinger said. "It felt like an attempt to intimidate me, but if that is what it was, it's not going to be successful."

Truitt declined to predict whether his clients would file suit if residents made comments or asked questions that he believes are inaccurate or unfairly impugn his clients.

He represents the Noels in a lawsuit against the EPA, filed in January in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, Pa. The suit accuses the agency of releasing residential well-test results to the news media without allowing the Noels to review test results in advance and of denying the landfill owners' requests for the data.

Stephen Lester, science director for Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste in Falls Church, Va., said legal threats are a common tactic in environmental disputes, so common that the practice has acquired the acronym SLAPP -- Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

Such lawsuits are "an attempt to intimidate vocal, activist community members," Lester said. "What it tends to do more often is the opposite. People who are active in Superfund sites tend to dig in their heels because they don't like to be intimidated."

Tests of wells along Humbert Schoolhouse Road have turned up metals such as arsenic and lead and industrial chemicals such as 1,1 dichloroethene, a plastic food wrap ingredient that can damage the liver, kidneys and central nervous system, and chloroform, a refrigerant that can cause cancer.

Hydrogeologists drilled test wells at depths to 400 feet on the Maryland side of the border to determine how water flows underground in the area. They concluded that it was unlikely any contaminated water could travel under the stream to reach wells south of it.

"This stream is basically acting as a division," said hydrogeologist Kevin Kilmartin.

The stream is polluted, but contaminant levels aren't high enough to cause immediate concern, said Christopher J. Corbett, EPA project manager for the Keystone site.

Corbett said people with contaminated wells should direct questions to the Carroll County Health Department.

The conclusion that Keystone can't be contaminating local wells is good news if it's true, said PACE member Sue Komick, who lives south of the stream.

"I have seen so many times in the past when the information was not complete or was incorrect," she said. "If it's true, it's good. But how can I rely on it?"

Pub Date: 4/17/97

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