State limits aid to remedy problem of radium in wells

No loans or grants to mid-income families

Anne Arundel

March 13, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Noting budget constraints, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development has determined that it can't offer loans and grants to middle-income families in northern Anne Arundel County for treating radium-tainted wells.

A report, which the department sent last week to the leaders of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, lists several loan and grant programs for low-income families who must upgrade their wells.

Families with incomes of more than $53,000 don't qualify for assistance.

Environmental studies have found radium, a naturally occurring radioactive metal associated with bone tumors, in several areas of Anne Arundel County.

But the problem appears to be concentrated in wells along the Pasadena peninsula, according to the state report.

A homeowner can solve the problem by installing a water treatment system, which would cost $500 to $2,000, or by drilling a deeper well, which would cost $5,000 to $10,000.

State criticized

Del. John R. Leopold, a Pasadena Republican, criticized the state for not offering to defray more of those costs. He said about 95 percent of the affected households don't qualify for assistance.

"We're talking about the public health of our citizens. That should be right at the top of our priority list," he said. "All options should be on the table to pay for treatment."

Leopold said the state should provide funding and that Anne Arundel County should match it.

He said he intends to seek funding from county public health officials and will continue pushing the state to extend its loan programs.

Lester A. Ettlinger, a Pasadena resident and environmental risk consultant, said the bigger problem for residents in his area is that the radium testing is voluntary.

Ettlinger, who submitted his findings last year in a report for the Pasadena Citizens' Task Force on Radium, said the state must require the county to complete testing on all wells in the affected area.

Ettlinger estimates that 1,200 homes out of 10,000 have been tested.

The county health department has told county real estate agents of the radium problems and encouraged them in a letter this year to alert prospective homebuyers.

"Since it's a God-given problem, nobody seems to take responsibility for it. And how do you protect the kids who are drinking it?" he asked.

"It's nonsense, and it's a shame."

Divided task force

Ettlinger said the treatment systems are an adequate remedy. He opposes drilling deeper wells and a conversion to public water, which puts him at odds with task force members who favor those measures.

Councilwoman Shirley Murphy, who created the task force in December 2000, invited residents dissatisfied with Ettlinger's report to offer amendments.

She expects the amended report to be available for review next month.

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