Water study update eyed

Report on radium in wells released

foes say it's misleading

Murphy defends findings

Former members of panel offered 6 months for input

October 19, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

County Council Chairwoman Shirley Murphy, faced with criticism of a report on what to do about a cancer-causing agent in Pasadena well water, said yesterday it could be updated in six months to include recommendations from former members of a task force formed to study the issue.

"If they want to put more in and it's credible and accurate, then it should be added," said Murphy, as she released the report yesterday. Still, she stood by the report, saying the task force members' criticisms don't undermine the report's credibility.

William DeLawder, one of four former task force members who said the report was misleading, expects to contact his former colleagues to consider what additions they might submit to the study.

"It's an opportunity for us to get that information in there, and I think we should take advantage of it," said DeLawder, founder of Citizens Against Radium Poisoning, a group favoring public water for the Pasadena peninsula. "We've got six months, but we can certainly do it in six weeks."

The 78-page report, written by environmental risk consultant Lester A. Ettlinger, concludes that taking public water to the Pasadena peninsula may increase peninsula development by 25 percent and calls for wells countywide to be tested for radium, a naturally occurring radioactive metal associated with bone tumors.

The report also calls for requiring treatment systems for wells with high levels of radium, even if public water lines are approved, because the project likely would take more than five years. It estimates the cost of public water for each household to range from $21,350 to $49,850 over 30 years.

The report is meant to help residents find solutions to elevated levels of radium detected in 1997 and 1998 in wells in Crownsville, Millersville, Pasadena, Severn and Severna Park. More than half of the 514 wells sampled exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's maximum level of 15 picocuries a liter, according to the county Health Department.

The Pasadena Citizens' Task Force on Radium was created in December by Murphy, a Pasadena Democrat who appointed Ettlinger, a nuclear engineer and former Johns Hopkins University physics professor, as chairman.

Ettlinger quit as chairman in May, because, he said, members weren't objective. The group was split between those who wanted public water and those who didn't, he said, so he wrote the report himself.

Former task force members disputed his account, saying they resigned from the group, because Ettlinger would not allow task force members to review the report or contribute to its content, until after he presented to Murphy.

Task force's criticisms

In a Sept. 5 letter to Murphy, four former members of the task force said the report presented a "superficial and misleading analysis" of the problem and disavowed its findings until all its "deficiencies" were addressed.

Murphy criticized the past behavior of task force members yesterday, saying they created more tension on the radium issue.

"We're not going to rehash the last 10 months about how seven people couldn't agree on how to put a report together," Murphy said to Ettlinger and DeLawder yesterday at a news conference at Arundel Center North, where the report was released. "Your task was to gather accurate facts on the issue. Not `he said, she said.' "

Ettlinger said his goal was to produce an authoritative document that could be the basis for future decision making.

"There should be no disagreement on the facts, only a disagreement on opinions about the facts," he said.

One suggested solution is to require deeper wells to bypass the radium field. Such an option would cost homeowners up to $7,500, according to the study, which recommends asking the state Department of the Environment to analyze the geology before requiring property owners to drill deeper wells. The report also asks for a survey to determine the extent of radium contamination.

Some peninsula residents want public water, but Ettlinger said that while public water may not contain radium, it may have levels of chlorine and arsenic.

"The public water they are asking for and the public water that we drink is not risk free," Ettlinger said. "People who have wells and treat them properly have a so-much-better chance of getting quality water."

The report does not address the safety of public water.

Radium fears

Ettlinger said that residents' fears about radium should be eased by the report. At the EPA's maximum level of 15 picocuries a liter, the report finds that if a person were to drink 2 liters a day for 50 years his risk for contracting bone cancer would be 1 in 10,000.

The former task force members, who reviewed Ettlinger's report, wrote in the Sept. 5 letter that it was flawed.

They said the report does not address whether treatment systems are capable of reducing radium below the EPA's standard. The letter, signed by former task force members Alison Asti, Anthony Mantione, Paula Tibert and DeLawder, also said the idea of a county-maintained "community well system" - similar to one used in Gibson Island - should have presented as a solution.

Both Murphy and Ettlinger said yesterday that those suggestions should be in the report.

Murphy said the report would be sent in coming weeks to all county public libraries, North County community associations and elected officials who represent the area.

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