Army to test Odenton wells for chemicals

March 24, 2009|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

The Army plans to test residential and business wells in Odenton after groundwater samples there showed elevated levels of toxic chemicals in an area adjacent to Fort Meade, officials said Monday.

Mary Doyle, a spokeswoman for the Army base, said the military hopes to test all wells within one mile of a pair of monitoring wells, near the Odenton MARC station, where contaminants have been found at up to 10 times levels considered safe to drink.

The testing is being done under orders from the Environmental Protection Agency, which said in a letter that the chemicals are "an unacceptable risk to human health" if they are being consumed in drinking water.

Elin Jones, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County Health Department, said that none of the chemicals was found at an unsafe level in the eight drinking-water wells tested last year.

Those drinking water wells, within a half-mile of the train station, might be tapping a shallower aquifer. The tainted monitoring wells are more than 200 feet deep.

But the new test-well results showing a sudden increase in contamination have prompted EPA to order expanded sampling of residents' wells.

Henry Sokolowski, who oversees federal facility cleanups for EPA's Mid-Atlantic office in Philadelphia, said the Army also has been directed to investigate whether any toxic vapors are seeping into basements or foundations of buildings in the Odenton area.

The three chemicals found in the test wells - carbon tetrachloride, perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene - are frequently used as cleaning solvents. All are considered potential human carcinogens because they cause tumors in animals.

EPA officials say the contamination could be coming from a closed landfill on the edge of the base or from a site on the base where a laundry once operated. The Army spokeswoman said it has never been proven that the contamination in the test wells came from Fort Meade. But she said the Army is cooperating with federal, state and local civilian authorities to determine its extent.

The issue is to be discussed at a meeting of Fort Meade's Restoration Advisory Board at 7 p.m. Thursday on the base, at the Directorate of Information Management, Building 1978. Information: 301-677-9365.

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