Great American nightmare Methane: Homebuyers are watching what befalls families whose new abodes are uninhabitable.

October 02, 1998

WHAT HAS happened to four families evacuated from new houses saturated with explosive methane gas in Howard County's Elkridge seems unreal. It is not as if methane is a rarity in central Maryland. Older houses have to be inspected for the odorless, colorless, flammable gas before they can be sold.

Developers should know before they drive the first nail whether the land on which they are building might have a methane problem.

In this case, the builder says it was unaware of illegal dumping that some old-timers contend occurred in a gravel pit on the property. Decaying material beneath the soil may be the source, but tests to determine that are incomplete.

In the meantime, the families that bought the $300,000 houses are living in apartments until the homes can be made safe.

Other families that bought houses in this subdivision, Calvert Ridge, are worried. Methane could increase to intolerable levels in their houses, but they can't move without losing a considerable portion of their investment to buy a new house. Emotions are fraying as people try to determine who is at fault. Should the developers have done more to test the soil? Should the county impose more stringent regulations to prevent this from occurring again?

xTC It's "buyer beware" in any transaction. But the families that purchased these contaminated homes could have done little to avoid their calamity. It is one thing to expect people to research the zoning or master plans in the neighborhoods where they buy, quite another for them to know what might have been buried on the property years ago.

Homebuyers wrestle with enough anxieties about the largest purchase of their lives. The fate of these families that purchased their houses in good faith will be watched closely.

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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