Chemical is detected in Harford well field

APG says military activity is source of perchlorate

January 22, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Tests of Harford County's well field have detected a hazardous chemical discovered last year just miles up the road in the city of Aberdeen's well field, and an Aberdeen Proving Ground spokesman acknowledged yesterday that military activity in the area was the source of the contamination.

A test conducted in December and released last week found that one of the county's production wells has a detectable level of perchlorate, an explosive salt used widely by the military in rocket fuel, smoke grenades and other incendiary devices. No perchlorate was detected in the finished drinking water, county officials said.

The wells are in Perryman along the western boundary of Aberdeen Proving Ground. The well field is about five miles southwest of the city of Aberdeen's well field.

The latest discovery was unsettling to military and state environmental officials. "It certainly raises a red flag," said APG spokesman George Mercer.

Mercer said the area is near a test track and a former Maryland fire training area. He said he did not know if test ranges had been in the area in past decades. The perchlorate "could be from testing; it could be from training," he said. "It's hard to say at this stage."

Richard McIntire, Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman, said the county well is near the Aberdeen aquifer's recharge area, a sensitive land surface where rain or snow percolates into the ground water.

Mercer said those confirmation test results should be available today.

Glenda Bowling, president of Aberdeen Proving Ground Superfund Citizens Coalition, a group that monitors base cleanup, said the perchlorate issue stands to affect many more Harford residents, since about 90,000 residents drink water from the Perryman wells.

Jackie Ludwig, the Harford County water and sewer engineer who works closely on Perryman well field issues, was ill and could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In Aberdeen's well field, the level of perchlorate in the well field ranges from 5 parts per billion to 23 parts per billion. The Harford well field's level of perchlorate was a little less than 1 part per billion in last week's test results.

The chemical is known to disrupt thyroid function and is suspected of contributing to developmental problems in fetuses, infants and young children. How much perchlorate is hazardous to humans is not known, and the Environmental Protection Agency appears to be years from issuing a national standard for perchlorate in drinking water.

Bowling said that although no standard exists, research has shown pregnant women, young children and people with thyroid problems are vulnerable to elevated perchlorate levels and that action should be taken based on that known risk.

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