Old landfill returning to natural state Carrs Mill project will include capping, grass, shrub plantings

'County is very careful'

Neighbors pleased with work although annoyed a bit by noise

December 26, 1997|By Carolyn Melago | Carolyn Melago,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

A former toxic-waste burial ground in western Howard County is being transformed from a neighborhood burden into the unspoiled land it was more than 40 years ago.

With drums of toxins removed, contaminated soil hauled off and the first waterproof layer secured, the Carrs Mill landfill will be capped within months and blanketed with grass and shrubbery by summer's end, officials of the county Bureau of Waste Management say.

Nearby residents were once concerned that their drinking water had been tainted by the landfill. But after tests found no evidence of contamination, most say they are pleased with the progress and give little thought to the former dumping ground.

"My water tested out fine," said Gail Tarrico, a Carrs Mill Road resident who had worried a few months ago that the landfill would lower her property's value. She considers people spraying fertilizer on lawns to be more of a health hazard than the landfill, which she said has had its "15 minutes of fame."

"My biggest gripe is that they start working promptly at 7 a.m. six days a week," she said of the crews restoring the site. "It's annoying, but they are beating the ground to get it done."

A county-owned landfill since the 1950s, Carrs Mill was the site of illegal toxic-waste dumping in the mid-1970s. In 1976 -- a year before the landfill closed -- an anonymous caller led county officials to empty industrial waste drums.

In September 1993, while the county was planning to seal the site with a waterproof cap, more 55-gallon drums were discovered. In all, 900 drums that once contained paints, grease-cutting chemicals and other toxins were unearthed.

As digging continued, dirt around the drums was found to be contaminated. To safeguard the site, the county had a choice between a $94,000 "soil vacuum extraction system," which would suck toxic vapors from the dirt, or a $2.4 million plan to haul 4,000 tons of contaminated soil to an out-of-state hazardous-waste site. Though experts said the cheaper plan was sufficient, officials chose in 1995 to use both.

"The county is very careful with these situations because of the concern for the public's well-being," said Kristofer Singleton, on-site project manager for the landfill.

With the dirt gone and contaminated soil vapors extracted, the focus has shifted to capping the landfill with layers of soil and plastic -- which began in August -- and restoring the 8.5 acres to a grassy field that mirrors its appearance of four decades ago.

"The cap is to stop any surface water from percolating through the waste area," said Evelyn Tomlin of the Howard Bureau of Waste Management. "All of this is to protect the area so ground water isn't contaminated."

Capping prevents formation of leachate, a contaminated liquid created when rainwater passes through trash and chemicals in a landfill. Leachate could contaminate streams and wells.

The bottom layer of this capping -- soil 2 feet deep -- has been spread and draped with a textured plastic "geomembrane," which repels water. Above that, a "geocomposite" of durable cloth and netting will be secured to drain more water. Three feet of dirt and 6 inches of topsoil will be spread on top.

A similar procedure will be used to cover the area directly above where the drums were discovered, except that 12 inches of less-permeable clay will be used instead of soil before the liner is added.

The next step in the cleanup will be to install 14 pumps along the perimeter to extract and clean any contaminated runoff. Singleton said an on-site water-treatment center will be constructed in an inconspicuous place.

"It would be more convenient to put it up here," he said, pointing on a blueprint to an area on Carrs Mill Road. "But to preserve the scenic nature of the road, we moved it back."

In fact, most of the construction area is hidden.

"We went to great lengths to maintain a natural buffer so the [site] wouldn't be visible from Carrs Mill Road," said John O'Hara, chief of the county's Waste Management Bureau, motioning toward the leafless trees that shield the construction. "We made an effort to do that because of the rural nature of the area."

Although the early-morning beeping and buzzing of dump trucks irritates some neighbors, officials say they have had few complaints. Workers are assigned to sweep gravel from the roads and direct traffic.

Olga Rosser, who lives on Bushy Park Road, had been concerned about the landfill contaminating her drinking-water well, but she is content with the capping.

"They test my water every three months, and so far everything is OK," she said. "I can't see the landfill from where I live, but when I go up the road I can, and it seems they're doing everything they're supposed to be doing."

County officials say they are relieved that they were able to regain the residents' trust.

"We are pleased that the neighbors are happy with what we did," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "I had every intent of going the extra mile up there to prevent the ground-water contamination from migrating."

The public is invited to tour the site and observe the army of trucks and bulldozers grading and compacting the layers of dirt over the former dump. Few neighbors have taken up the offer.

"I have lived here for lo these many years," said Tarrico, "so I have the opportunity to look at it anytime."

Pub Date: 12/26/97

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