A proposal by Anne Arundel County legislators that would earmark state money to help homeowners pay for equipment to remove radium from their well water won support yesterday from Maryland Housing Secretary Raymond A. Skinner.
In a brief hearing before the House Appropriations Committee's Health and Human Resources Subcommittee, District 31 Dels. John R. Leopold, a Republican, and Joan Cadden, a Democrat, presented language for the 2002 state budget that would create sliding-scale loans or grants for households.
Skinner agreed to prepare a report that discusses creating the program for property owners whose well tests show radium levels higher than the Environmental Protection Agency standard of 15 picocuries per liter. The subcommittee could vote on the issue within two weeks.
Leopold said the treatment systems, which can cost from $500 to $1,500, are especially necessary in light of the county's high cancer rates. He said water treatment systems have helped reduce radium in wells to safe levels.
Higher levels of radium - a naturally occurring carcinogen associated with bone tumors - were detected in 1997 and 1998 in wells in Crownsville, Millersville, Pasadena, Severn and Severna Park.
But while it has become an emotionally charged issue in some communities that rely on private wells, health officials have insisted that there is no emergency situation and that home water-treatment systems are effective in removing radium.
Lester Ettlinger and James Bilenki, members of the Pasadena Citizens Task Force on Radium in Well Water, planned to testify but left because of time constraints after a fire alarm at the Lowe House Office Building.
Ettlinger said in an interview that the task force has concluded that about 10,000 people might be affected by radium contamination and that the cost for treating the water can be significant.
"Residents, to protect themselves, have to spend a fair amount of money that they didn't really plan on or budget for," he said. "Should they get some help? They should ask, and maybe the state can help them."