No environmental hazards found in building Source of foul odor in housing complex remains a mystery

October 15, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Tests of soil surrounding Locust House, a subsidized housing complex for the elderly and disabled in Westminster, have concluded the building is free of any obvious environmental hazards.

The Carroll County Board of Housing Review had recommended soil testing to determine the source of an intermittent foul odor at the seven-story complex, home to nearly 100 tenants.

Science Applications International Corp., based in Middletown, Pa., bored 6 feet into the soil last month at eight sites around the building near Westminster City Hall. According to the report, trace amounts of gases were undetectable to humans and soil vapors are not a concern on site.

"On the surface, everything seems in order," said Greg Keller, county livability code inspector. The laboratory tests screened for 41 volatile organic compounds. Minimal concentrations of nine compounds were detected, but all were well below acceptable levels, according to the report. The consultant is recommending no further action.

Locust House residents' complaints about the smell, which many said caused eye and sinus irritations, date back several years and are on file in the county Bureau of Permits and Inspections.

Residents have compared the smell to sewer gas or rotten garbage. They detected the odor most often in the lobby, particularly as they entered the building, constructed 20 years ago on the site of an abandoned distillery.

Air-quality samples from inside the building were collected in December, but did not account for the smell, Keller said.

No further testing was ordered until Mike Melsheimer, a Locust House resident, appealed to the housing review board. Its five members said "testing of random exterior soil samples is a reasonable precaution which should be required."

The board ordered Humphrey Management Co. of Silver Spring, the building owner, to pay for testing, involving drilling and analysis. It cost about $2,000.

"This was not a frivolous exercise," said Melsheimer. "We have a system in place to protect people from a possibly serious situation."

Keller has forwarded a copy of the report to Humphrey Management and has recommended all tenants be provided a copy.

Pub Date: 10/15/98

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