City shuts well after solvent level rises

Step taken as precaution pending installation of filter system in January

Taneytown

November 25, 2003|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The city of Taneytown has shut down its most productive well, after the level of a solvent used to clean metal crept above the federal standard for drinking water, city and state officials said.

City officials said the well could have remained on line pending further test results but it was shut down as a precaution.

A filtering system is to be installed in January, said City Manager Gary W. Hardman, the former public works director.

A public meeting about the well contamination is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Taneytown Volunteer Fire Company, 39 E. Baltimore St., before the regularly scheduled City Council work session.

Hardman met last week with representatives of the Maryland Department of the Environment and of ESAB Welding & Cutting Products of Hanover, Pa., which had leased a property near the well.

The property has been subject to environmental monitoring since the 1980s, he said.

In late September, he said, the city was sent a letter from ESAB reporting a higher-than-normal level of tetrachloroethene (also known as PCE) in monitoring wells near the city well. The reading was 5.54 parts per billion (ppb)of the chemical, which has an allowed maximum contamination level of 5 parts per billion.

The readings previously had been about 2 ppb, said Hardman. He checked with state officials, who said the city did not have to shut down its well until it had four consecutive quarters with readings averaging above 5 ppb.

"We could have kept on another nine months," Hardman said, "but [we] decided it wasn't worth it, and to just turn it off and wait for the treatment."

Property now vacant

The now-vacant property on Allendale Lane was leased from 1980 to last year by All-State Welding Products, which used PCE from 1983 to 1988, said John V. Dillenburg, a retired senior vice president of engineering for ESAB, who still is working on the Taneytown cleanup.

All-State Welding Products is now a division of ESAB, a global corporation with offices in Hanover, Pa.

All-State might have not been the only source of the commonly used solvent, Dillenburg said. He also attributed the higher recent levels to this year's heavy rainfall.

The company has not acknowledged liability, Dillenberg said, but it will install a carbon filtration system "to remove 99.98 percent of all contaminants, including PCE."

ESAB has done its own readings, in addition to the quarterly tests by the state, Dillenburg said, and recently received results of a Nov. 10 test that showed the solvent level down to 2.4 ppb, from a high of 6.2 ppb in September.

ESAB has been working with the city and state since 1985 to monitor and identify the source of the pollutant.

The state's monitoring of wells on the plant site and at several other locations showed a plume of contamination slowly moving toward the town well for the past 10 to 15 years, Hardman said, but it had remained hundreds of feet away.

State test results showed a reading of 5.07 ppb in July and 5.54 ppb last month, said Richard J. McIntire, a Department of the Environment spokesman.

One of six wells

Well 13 is one of six wells that provide the city's water, Hardman said. Since it was shut down, there have been no calls, he said, but town residents aren't likely to notice any change because the other wells will make up the difference by running 20 hours a day rather than 12 hours.

"But that is our best-producing well," Hardman said of No. 13, which averages 120 gallons per minute.

The Taneytown site also is the subject of a federal lawsuit against the ESAB Group Inc. by the Springlake Corp., a Baltimore company that leased the site to All-State Welding until November last year.

The civil action, which seeks to have the property restored as well as unspecified monetary damages, is in pretrial stages in Baltimore, said John F. Dougherty, the plaintiff's attorney.

Neither he nor Dillenburg would comment further on the lawsuit.

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