Bill offers aid in paying to rid wells of radium

State legislation could benefit residents of Pasadena area

Cleanup systems can cost $3,000

Existing loan program too restrictive for most residents of peninsula

Anne Arundel

February 07, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

A state bill that would help some families pay to treat their radium-tainted wells gained momentum yesterday by winning public endorsements from Anne Arundel County and state officials.

Under the proposal heard by the House Environmental Matters Committee, the county and state would combine to pay for up to one-quarter of the cost of radium-treatment systems. A treatment system costs $800 to $3,000, health officials said.

The legislation, which is co-sponsored by 11 Anne Arundel delegates, is intended to help families near Pasadena, where some estimate that more than 6,000 wells have unsafe levels of the radioactive metal. The peninsula has no public water system.

Radium, which occurs naturally in rocks that line some aquifers, has been linked to bone cancer.

The Anne Arundel County administration, Health Officer Frances B. Phillips, Councilman Ronald C. Dillon Jr. and the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development endorsed the bill.

Under a department program, low-income families can obtain low- and no-interest loans to pay for treatment. Families with incomes of about $53,000 or more do not qualify.

"The qualification income ceilings are so low that there are very few people in the community who can take advantage of them," Del. John R. Leopold, a Pasadena Republican, said yesterday.

His proposal for a three-year pilot program would supplement the loan program.

Families would be eligible for grants if they earned less than 110 percent of the area's median household income. That figure would be about $80,300, he said.

Families just under the income limit would get money to cover 10 percent of their costs. The poorer the family, the more assistance it could get, up to 25 percent of the cost.

To qualify, a family would be required to test its well - which costs at least $64 - and find radium above the level accepted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The legislation is intended mainly to help Anne Arundel County, but Leopold said other counties could choose to participate if radium problems were discovered there.

The state would pay half of the program's cost and the county the other half.

A state legislative budget report estimates that 10 percent of eligible families would apply. If that occurred, the program would cost the county and the state $44,800 a year each for each of the next three years, the report says. State housing officials said yesterday that they could probably find money for the program in the budget.

The House committee did not vote on the bill yesterday.

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