Contamination concerns keep Hampstead from using 2 wells

Black & Decker says use could hinder cleanup

March 27, 2000|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Two wells that were once among the best producers in Hampstead's public water system remain in a kind of quarantine -- sealed off from the rest of the supply because of the threat of contamination by solvents from the nearby Black & Decker Corp. plant.

Town officials believe that their wells could be safe from the contaminants. But this month the company turned down the town's request for help proving the water's safety. A Black & Decker official said the company is concerned that pumping from the wells could cause known contamination to move, thwarting a state-ordered cleanup the company is carrying out.

While testing for contamination from a gasoline station in 1985, Black & Decker discovered that wells on its site were contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene (PCE), cleaning solvents and metal degreasers that Black & Decker stored in above-ground tanks on the site.

TCE and PCE, also used in dry cleaning, are suspected human carcinogens, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Linda Biagioni, vice president for environmental affairs at Black & Decker, said the company has not determined how the chemicals got into the ground water, but that they were used at the plant, which made power tools from the early 1950s through the 1960s.

The plant stopped storing and using TCE and PCE in the 1980s, she said, when manufacturing ended. She was unsure whether the tanks are still on the property.

The plant is used mainly for packaging, distribution and customer service, and employs about 500, according to another company spokeswoman.

"We would like to help [the town] and we'll cooperate with them, but right now, pumping those wells is not a good idea for us or for them," Biagioni said.

Town Councilman Lawrence Hentz is frustrated with the corporation's stand. And he is just as frustrated that the previous town administration and council never insisted on compensation from Black & Decker for the loss of the wells.

"I also blame the town. We signed an agreement, and we got zippo out of it," Hentz said. "We lost two wells and in exchange, we got a real headache."

In the early 1990s, Hampstead officials seem to have believed that they would eventually regain use of the wells as Black & Decker pumped and cleaned the water on its site, said Town Manager Ken Decker, who was not working for the town then.

At the meeting this month with company officials, however, Hentz and Decker were dismayed to realize that they might never regain access to the wells.

"We were a little dispirited to learn that the cleanup period might not be measured in years but in decades," Decker said.

Biagioni would not predict a completion date for the cleanup project but said the work could continue well past 2005. A cleanup program began in the late 1980s, with a second phase begun in the early 1990s, she said.

The two Hampstead wells began operating in the early 1990s, as part of the newest section of Roberts Field, a residential development. They were used for a few years before the state ordered them closed.

The wells had not shown contamination but were ordered closed as a precaution while Black & Decker began pumping ground water, cleaning it, and discharging it into a stream.

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