Group set to study wells' radium levels

Murphy to receive residents' suggestions

January 25, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

A new task force of Pasadena residents looking at what to do about radium in the area's private wells aims to come up with recommendations by midyear.

The seven-member group, the Pasadena Citizens Task Force on Radium in Well Water, will study radium levels in well water, treatment system options and other water sources to inform the community and will make a proposal to County Council Chairwoman Shirley Murphy.

"Our goal would be to ultimately suggest systems that will protect the public heath and safety of citizens from radium in well water," said Lester Ettlinger, the group's chairman.

Murphy, a Pasadena Democrat, created the task force after seeing a need for a citizens group to research the issue, without a lot of government influence.

"A citizen task force is a way for everyone to feel comfortable," she said. "The information they gather will be from the citizens' studies."

Ettlinger, a Stoney Beach resident, said the group will focus on the facts from a "dispassionate point of view," looking at what levels of radium are considered safe and the costs of water-treatment systems. He said he wants to discourage residents from using the group as a sounding board for public water, one costly alternative to well water for the eastern end of the Mountain Road peninsula.

"Although there are lots of strong feelings on all sides about these various matters, we are only interested in looking at factual information," Ettlinger said. "We're not going to be hysterical. We're going to document what's known."

The group will hold public meetings and plans to talk with representatives from health, environment and public works agencies, Ettlinger said.

Radium found in well water has worried Pasadena residents since elevated levels of the carcinogen, which is associated with bone tumors, were detected in 1997 and 1998 in wells in Crownsville, Millersville, Pasadena, Severn and Severna Park.

Above EPA limits

According to the county Health Department, 326 of 514 Pasadena wells sampled exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's maximum level of 15 picocuries per liter, a measure of radioactivity.

"There is a real problem here," Ettlinger said. "There are enough people who are on well water who live in the Pasadena area who are concerned. There ought to be a place were they can go to find out information, where they don't have to do all the research themselves."

William DeLawder, a Sylvan View resident on the task force, said he hopes that after the group conducts its research, it will recommend that public water be extended to the peninsula. DeLawder is founder of the group Citizens Against Radium Poisoning, which began a petition drive last fall in an effort to persuade the county to connect the area to public water.

Hopes for public water

"To me, the only long-range solution would be to have public water," DeLawder said. "I'm not trying to push that on anybody at the task force meetings, I'm hoping they come to that conclusion."

Del. John R. Leopold, a Pasadena Republican, said one solution would be for the state to pay part of the cost of water-treatment systems, which can cost $500 to $1,500. He said he will ask that a loan and grant program be included in the fiscal 2002 state budget by the secretary of housing and community development.

Such a program would give aid on a sliding scale to property owners whose well tests indicate radium levels higher than the EPA standard, Leopold said.

"Government should be primarily focused on essential responsibilities, and the most important responsibility is public health and safety," he said. "There should be a priority of state government to provide some assistance for those individuals who have unhealthy levels of radium."

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