Odenton lead levels a worry

Regulators find 5 houses with unsafe well water

Old pipes could be the source

Chemical pollutants found in nearby aquifer last year

April 15, 2005|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

The purity of well water in southwest Odenton has again fallen into question as recent tests by state and federal regulators revealed unsafe levels of lead in the drinking water at five residences.

Three weeks ago, health and environmental regulators tested water at 13 homes for two cancer-causing pollutants, which officials discovered last year in dangerous levels at a nearby aquifer under Fort Meade.

The March tests at the residences turned up safe levels of the two chemicals - but uncovered high lead levels, which county health officials say are likely attributable to aging plumbing systems.

Various chemicals have been detected in groundwater in this area since at least 1994, and county health officials said they will resume tests next year.

"We will definitely keep aware of it," said Elin Jones, a county Health Department spokeswoman, of the residential wells. "Although we didn't find high levels [of the carcinogenic pollutants] we want to make sure there's no increase."

County, state and federal officials conducted the tests in March after Army regulators last June uncovered the presence of the two cancer-causing pollutants in three wells around the aquifer. The two chemicals - tetrachloroethene, a dry-cleaning solution, and carbon tetrachloride, a pesticide - were measured at up to four times the federal government's contamination standards.

The water source, the Lower Patapsco Aquifer, sits under a covered landfill on the southeast corner of Fort Meade, a federal Superfund site. The aquifer provides water for hundreds of residential and commercial wells in Odenton and Piney Orchard.

Nineteen wells near Old Waugh Chapel Road were scheduled to be tested in March, but residents at four homes denied access to authorities. Two other defunct wells weren't tested. The results were released earlier this week.

Fort Meade and Environmental Protection Agency officials said last month the landfill was a possible cause of the contamination, and EPA regulators were probing it for leaks. Based on the low levels of tetrachloroethene and carbon tetrachloride found in the residential wells, the EPA "didn't see a need" to expand the testing of other residential wells, Jones said.

But the county health department will retest the five homes with unsafe lead levels in the next 10 days in an attempt to confirm the source of the metal. Jones said the likely source is the homes' plumbing, not the aquifer. The plumbing systems for residences that use wells in that area are up to a century old.

In the meantime, those residents have been encouraged to use bottled water, and officials will recommend they purchase water treatment systems.

Most residents in Odenton and Piney Orchard are connected to the county's public water system, which is tested regularly. County officials have said that the system is safe from outside sources of contamination.

Some who drink well water have been more vulnerable to contamination. In 1994, officials discovered an herbicide in five residential wells along Old Waugh Chapel Road, prompting county officials to offer connecting those residents to the public water system for free.

Possible sources of pollutants are the closed landfill at Fort Meade and the rail line that borders a part of Odenton and the Army post.

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