Hampstead wants meeting with state on MTBE

High readings found in area near Carroll town

September 05, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Hampstead's mayor and council have asked the state for a public meeting where it would share information on its investigation of a neighborhood outside the town where wells have been contaminated by the gasoline additive MTBE.

Town Manager Ken Decker wrote a letter to the Maryland Department of the Environmental last week asking for "a public outreach session" and offering the use of the town hall.

"We just want to make sure that the state makes sure that everyone is informed," said Decker, who had not received a response by late Friday.

MDE spokesman Richard J. McIntire said the request has been received and is being considered.

The MDE investigation of the Hillcrest Avenue neighborhood, just east of Hampstead, began in September last year after residents of an apartment complex complained that their water smelled of gasoline.

"No meeting has been scheduled," McIntire said.

Since January, nine households in the neighborhood have had carbon-filtration systems installed, he said. They cost about $3,000 each and are being paid for by the state while the source of the contamination is pinpointed.

The number of possible sources has been narrowed to three, McIntire said, including a gasoline station, a closed station and a tank for a private residence where the investigation has been hampered by a bankruptcy filing.

Testing of wells in the area continues as the Carroll County Health Department attempts to determine the extent of the contamination, said Charles L. Zeleski, the department's acting director of environmental health.

MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is added to make gasoline burn more cleanly. Since 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has required its use in states, including Maryland, with ozone pollution in the summer.

Studies on inhaling MTBE have shown that it causes cancer in laboratory animals at high doses, but its effects in drinking water are unknown.

In Maryland, cases where MTBE exceeds 10 to 20 parts per billion are referred to the state's Oil Control Program.

Other components of gasoline are known hazards, but MTBE is a problem because it does not disintegrate and is lighter, allowing it to move farther and more quickly, Zeleski said. There is new concern among health officials that it might also be released as a gas without any leak or spill, he said.

Zeleski said there have been no new complaints or new readings above the recommended level. The Hillcrest Avenue-area homes where the carbon-filtration systems were installed originally had readings ranging from 40 to 290 parts per billion.

"It's never a bad idea to keep people informed. ... Anytime you can get information out to people, it's a good thing," Zeleski said.

MDE officials drew heated criticism in Harford County, where contamination suspected of coming from a Fallston-area station caused MTBE problems in the Upper Crossroads area.

"I'm hoping MDE does a little bit better job of keeping us in the loop," said Decker, the town manager. "We're as interested as anybody. We're going to push hard for the public meeting."

Wells have been tested in the areas of Hillcrest Avenue and Summit, Taylor and Hillcrest streets, Zeleski said. The testing of 47 properties has been extended into the 4100 block of Black Rock Road and the 4200 block of Upper Beckleysville Road, where readings have ranged from zero to 0.63 parts per billion.

"It's an expanding area as we sample, not an expanding spill," said Zeleski, noting that new samples were taken Friday. "We're defining the boundaries."

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