Gas fears drive out fourth Elkridge family Neighbors, officials still seeking cause of methane problems in subdivision

September 10, 1998|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

Another family has vacated a home in the Calvert Ridge subdivision in Elkridge, chased away by methane gas that was detected in the area last week.

Neighbors on the quiet 7000 block on Calvert St. say they looked on with disappointment as Linwood Brown, 33, his wife and two children moved out Tuesday evening.

"No one should have to leave their home," said Bob Adams, 36, who lives down the street. "This is not right."

Calvert Ridge residents said they've watched four families move from the community so far because of the uncontrolled methane in the area and that they are fed up.

"We're just getting to know one another," Adams said. "This is unbelievable."

Last week, the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services barred three families from their homes after high levels of methane entered their basements through sump pumps. A spark can ignite high levels of methane and cause an explosion.

The Brown family left Tuesday after officials discovered a 3 percent reading of gas in their house. (The percentage is not the total amount of gas present in the air of the house. It's a figure based on the amount of methane detected in the area near the point of entry -- in this case, generally around the sump pumps.)

The Browns, who could not be reached for comment, weren't forced to leave; the level of gas was below the 5 percent safety standard, firefighters said.

But some of the Browns' neighbors had no choice.

"We still don't have any idea when we will be able to return," said Bill Bambarger, 34, who owns a house next to the Browns'. "But it probably won't be for at least a few weeks."

Bambarger said the Browns were wise to leave. "It only gets worse," he said.

Two months ago, Bambarger, his wife and their three children dTC moved into their four-bedroom, 3,400-square-foot home. The level of methane there yesterday had nearly quadrupled from last week's 30 percent, he said.

The Bambargers stayed in a relative's Ellicott City home last week but relocated to a three-bedroom apartment nearby a few days ago. Ryan Homes, the company that built the houses, has agreed to pay the lodging and meals for families barred from their homes.

"Our major concern continues to be the safety of our customers," said Ryan Homes spokesman Robert Coursey, who was unaware that the Browns had left the subdivision.

Coursey said the company and the subdivision's developer, Brantley Development Group, hired a consulting firm to begin taking soil samples yesterday to determine the origin of the gas.

Several residents who were raised in the area have claimed that the homes were built on an old landfill. Neighbors suspect the methane gas was a result of decaying materials, such as tree stumps and garbage, dumped on the property decades ago.

But Raquel Saundo, chief administrative officer for Howard County, said that after searching archives, she found no evidence of a landfill there.

"We know that there used to be a gravel pit where the homes are," Saundo said. "That's all we know."

Capt. Sean Kelly, a spokesman for the county Department of Fire and Rescue Services, said personnel will continue to be stationed in the 7000 block of Calvert St. from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to administer gas tests in the community.

He added that officials were meeting to develop a long-term plan to address homeowners' concerns.

In the meantime, nearby residents hope the methane doesn't spread to their homes and that they won't have to watch another family move.

"When is this going to end?" Adams asked.

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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