Carrolltown Center owner seeks end to chemical-spill cleanup

June 28, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The owner of Carrolltown Center in Eldersburg has asked the Maryland Department of the Environment to waive further cleanup of a chemical spill that occurred there eight years ago.

R. Dixon Harvey Jr., mall owner since 1993, has agreed to continue collecting samples from the dozen monitor wells on the property as a precautionary measure.

About 40 gallons of tetrachloroethene -- a minimal spill, environmental officials say -- overflowed from a dry-cleaning storage tank in February and June 1990, contaminating ground water and subsurface soil.

Tetrachloroethene is a man-made chemical that has caused cancer in test animals and is commonly used in dry cleaning. Although it evaporates easily, rain or snow can carry it to subsoil and ground water, where it can remain for long periods without breaking down.

A development of several hundred homes and Carrolltowne Elementary School, with more than 1,000 students, are across the street from the spill site.

Within a year of the spill, the former owners of the county's first enclosed mall installed seven monitoring wells on the property. They have forwarded quarterly samples to the MDE since.

In 1994, five wells were added. State environmental officials collect samples four times a year from the 12 wells. Samples have consistently shown that the contamination is confined to the shopping center property.

Because the 22-year-old mall and nearly all the homes in the area are served by public water rather than well water, environmental consultants have repeatedly stressed that the local population is in no danger. The few private wells at homes a half-mile south of the mall were tested and found to be free of contaminants.

Harvey put the mall's 32 acres into the state's voluntary remediation program for contaminated properties about a year ago and hired an environmental consultant to develop a cleanup plan.

A year of testing and research has spawned a plan that would continue monitoring the wells while letting nature take its course with the cleanup.

"As long as there is no potential for adverse exposure, it is best to let Mother Nature remove the contaminants over time," said Gary Walters, a consultant with Environmental Resources Management. "There is no good technique that does a better job."

Walters has filed a document with the state that gives the history, nature and extent of the contamination beneath the mall property and assesses present and future conditions that could be affected by construction there.

Dixon hopes to make extensive renovations and additions to the 330,000-square-foot center that would include five movie theaters with stadium-style seating, a new lobby and renovations to the existing six screens. In light of Walters' findings, Harvey has asked that the state impose "no further requirements."

Letting nature do the cleanup could take 20 to 30 years, Walters said. "We will continue to monitor to make sure the information remains true," he said. "There is absolutely no danger to the public."

L Whether the state accepts that judgment is to be determined.

"There is a natural physical and chemical process that reduces contaminants in the subsurface," said John Cherry, a Department of the Environment geologist. "We are reviewing the plan to make sure their assumptions are appropriate."

The state has until mid-August to reply but expects to have comments to Walters within the next few weeks, officials said.

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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