Explosive devices found near wells

Discarded drums, one of them corroded, turn up in Army inspection


February 02, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Army officials reported late last week that four abandoned drums, some containing spent smoke grenades and other incendiary devices, were found during an inspection near Aberdeen's well field, where a hazardous chemical has been found in the wells and finished drinking water.

Several drums were intact and clean, but one was corroded and contained spent explosive devices, said Paul Miller, an Army Corps of Engineers geologist.

Aberdeen's well field sits along the western boundary of Aberdeen Proving Ground, and the Army has said military training exercises in the area - which continue despite the discovery of perchlorate - have caused contamination.

"Our objective [with the inspection] was to see if there was some rather large burial area. We didn't find that," Miller said. He did, however, say that tests of areas around the drums and below them detected perchlorate, the chemical found in the wells earlier this year.

Perchlorate, an oxidizer, is used in rocket fuel and explosive devices. It has also been found a few miles down the road in one of Harford County's production wells, though none has been found in the finished drinking water.

Miller said more testing is scheduled to begin next week around Aberdeen's well field, using 12 new monitoring wells and as many as 500 soil and 100 water samples.

"We're looking into the history of the area," using aerial photos and documents, Ken Stachiw, chief of installation restoration, said last week. The process can be difficult, he said, because "those records may not have been extensive."

He and Miller said that, based on information they have at this time, it appears the perchlorate discoveries are unrelated. Several miles separate the two well fields, and the ground water flows in opposite directions, they said.

Perchlorate 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 has not issued a national standard for perchlorate in drinking water.

Last week, the Army also took more samples from Harford County's Perryman well field, also along APG's western boundary. Production wells 8 and 9 were sampled last week, and another round of tests is planned for this week. Well 9 remains shut down until the results of these tests are studied in the next few weeks, said Jackie Ludwig, an engineer with the county's water and sewer department.

Three water sources feed the county's public water system: a plant in Havre de Grace that draws from the Susquehanna River; the Perryman well field; and water from Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore County, Ludwig said. The system's capacity is about 18 million gallons a day; it pumps about half that to meet the county's water demands, she said.

Of that, about 3 million gallons a day come from the Perryman well field, which has seven wells. (Two have not been completed; one because of low yield, the other because of high nitrate levels.) The field can produce about 4.2 million gallons a day safely, she said.

Well 9 has been shut down until after the next two rounds of tests are returned early this month and are assessed, Ludwig said, adding that the well is a small producer. It contributes about 400,000 gallons a day to the water mix.

And she added, "We don't run every well 24 hours a day. As we need more water, more wells come on line."

Water tests that concern APG-related pollution are done quarterly or twice a year at the county's Perryman fields, according to federal requirements for monitoring the contamination after the industrial degreaser trichloroethylene and traces of explosives were found in two of the county's seven wells in the 1990s, Ludwig said.

Ludwig said she has received a few calls from residents, mainly people who are confused about the difference between raw water taken from the wells and the finished water that has been treated before it goes into the pipes that carry water to homes, schools and businesses. Some people aren't aware of the treatment step, she said. "They think [raw water] is what's coming out of their tap."

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