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Carroll County commissioners approve pollutant study near Westminster well

An area near the Westminster Votech well is being investigated for possible environmental pollutants ahead of a site revitalization project.

The Board of Carroll County Commissioners approved a request Thursday to award of a contract to Tetra Tech to perform field investigation and site analysis of the Carroll County Public Safety Training Center for potential per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances contamination, also known as PFAS.

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According to a county document presented at the meeting, PFAS are a category of emergent pollutants that include thousands of manmade compounds and can lead to potential health and environmental impacts, including cancer.

The Westminster well is in close proximity to the training site, which historically was a venue for firefighting training simulations. These exercises may have used fire suppression foams that contained PFAS and could have contributed to the contamination of the Votech well, according to county document.

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While there are many uses for PFAS, one of the primary applications was in the manufacturing of fire suppression foams. As an emergent pollutant, the Environmental Protection Agency is still developing guidance for regulated pollutant levels, however, the Maryland Department of the Environment began the process of evaluating 130 municipal water supply wells across the state for the presence of these pollutants.

In addition to the Westminster well, another in Hampstead was determined to have a level of PFAS above the currently recommended threshold from the EPA. The city and the town respectively have taken the wells off-line and are in the process of studying the best options for remediation.

MDE has requested that Carroll County perform analysis of the training site to determine if PFAS contamination remains on the site. As there are plans being developed to perform site improvements that could impact potentially contaminated soils, staff agree that it is prudent to analyze the site to determine if there are contaminants that need to be addressed.

The county requested proposals from vendors capable and interested in performing this service and a committee was formed to evaluate both the technical and financial proposals of the potential vendors. Tetra Tech received the highest overall score.

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Chris Heyn, director of the county’s department of land and resource management, told commissioners the purpose of the requested contract is to retain the expertise of a qualified consultant to perform field and laboratory analysis of the training site and provide technical guidance for the county to address issues regarding possible PFAS contamination.

“We have not used any chemicals with PFAS in a number of years but it is very possible we historically did use some chemicals that contained the contaminant,” he said.

He pointed out the department of public works is looking to perform site revitalization at the training center which would require some site development work.

“I felt it was prudent to go ahead and analyze the site and figure out whether MDE’s concerns are validated … so before we start moving all that dirt and concrete … we can take special measures,” Heyn said.

Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, asked the director to share the reasons PFAS is a concern.

“They’re still studying it to figure out what the effects are,” Heyn replied. “There are studies that show certain types of cancer that it can cause.”

The pollutant has also proved to cause high cholesterol, impact liver function and decrease the efficacy of vaccines in children.

Heyn said the City of Westminster and the Town of Hampstead are both actively working with consultants “to come up with plans to address this because they want to continue using the wells.”

After Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, asked about timelines for the project, Heyn said he expects the study to be completed within a couple of months.

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