Problem of leaky pipes grows

Pinholes affect more homes than county first said

`This is really scary'

March 17, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Nine South Carroll subdivisions, including one built in the 1980s, each have at least a dozen homes reporting pinhole leaks in outside water pipes, six more than the county initially reported.

The county has identified about 350 homeowners with leaky pipes, but there are likely others because the focus has been on the corrosion of exterior pipes - those leading from the county's main water line to homes - not those inside homes, Carroll officials have said.

A home's age might not be an indicator of the potential for leaks. A leak was reported in a 9-year-old Sykesville home last week.

"This is really scary," said Elaine Ermer, who lives in Water's Edge in Sykesville and has had to replace pipes in her basement. "People live in houses 50 years and don't have this kind of trouble."

Water's Edge is not on the county's list of subdivisions affected by the leak problem.

The county has been tracking reports of leaks in South Carroll since early 1999 but has not determined the cause. Efforts have focused on the quality of water from the Freedom Water Treatment Plant, which supplies 7,000 homes in Eldersburg and Sykesville with water drawn from Liberty Reservoir, the source of drinking water for 2 million people in the Baltimore area.

"You can talk to anyone who lives in an older home here and gets water from the Freedom plant and you will hear the same story," said Pam Seiter, president of the Strawbridge Estates Homeowners Association. "If it has not happened to them yet, they are waiting for it to happen."

Gary Horst, county director of enterprise and recreation services, said, "We know full well that the numbers do not represent the total number of people who had problems with pipes."

In the past six months, pipes in more than 20 homes in Strawbridge Estates, including Seiter's, have sprung leaks. The other subdivisions where leaks have been reported are Lake Forest, Hilltop, Carroll Dale, Carroll Highlands and Shannon Run, a subdivision in Sykesville that was built in the late 1980s. The others - Carrolltowne, Carroll Square and Oklahoma Estates - were built in the 1970s. With the exception of Shannon Run, all are in Eldersburg, the county's most-populated area, along Route 26.

"This is really expensive, and insurance only pays for the damage done by the pipes, not their replacement," Seiter said. "We are wondering if we should just replace every pipe in the house."

An engineering consultant hired by the county and a metallurgist hired by several neighborhood associations concluded independently that the water from the Freedom plant does not naturally form a protective scale on the inside of the pipes, as water usually does. Without the scaling, minute parti- cles in the water rub against the pipes, creating pinholes that leak.

"Water that destroys plumbing is not a quality product," said Robert Ermer. "As a supplier of public water, the county has an obligation to provide a quality product."

About 10 residents met last week with Horst to discuss the problem and the possibility of the county's reimbursing for damage. Horst and the neighbors characterized the meeting as cordial and productive.

"We sent the county on a mission, and we expect a response in the form of a game plan," said Carol Brown of Eldersburg. "We want to know what the county plans to do and when."

Horst is scheduled to brief the county commissioners on the meeting Thursday.

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