State environmental officials are negotiating with North Carroll Shopping Center and the former owners of a dry cleaner there to recoup the cost of cleaning contaminated ground water behind the building, said the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Current C & C Dry Cleaners owner Charley Pak is not responsible and didn't own the business when the contamination was found in 1987, said department spokesman John Goheen. Pak bought the business in 1989.

The MDE will continue testing residential wells as a precaution and hopes to start a cleanup by the end of the year, Goheen said. Engineers will need to pump out and treat the ground water at a cost of up to $1 million, he said.

The state has the money for the cleanup and will try to recoup the money later from businesses it finds responsible, Goheen said.

The pollutant, tetrachloroethylene, is a dry-cleaning solvent and a suspected carcinogen.

News last month that the state might move the proposed Hampstead bypass to avoid the site pushed the contamination back into the public eye, said Hampstead Town Manager John Riley. The state said it feared future liability.

"It was kind of out of sight, out of mind," Riley said.

Riley received calls from residents about their wells, the town's and the one for North Carroll Middle School.

He said Hampstead gets its public water from wells on the other side of town, far from the contaminated site. The school's well is up-gradient -- the ground water equivalentof upstream -- from the site, and therefore not likely to be contaminated, Goheen said.

When the contamination was found in 1987, the county ordered the shopping center to install activated-carbon filters that bring the water to safe standards, Goheen said.

MDE began a$600,000 study last spring to determine the boundaries of the contamination and how best to pump and treat the water to clean it, Goheen said.

More residents have asked in the past two weeks to have their wells tested, but the MDE was going to do more testing anyway, Goheen said. He said he didn't know how many or which wells, except to say they would be mostly wells down-gradient from the shopping center. The MDE will test a few wells that are up-gradient to sample what area water was like before contamination, Goheen said.

"We absolutelydo not expect to find anything, but we'll do this as a precaution," Goheen said.

He said 13 residential wells were tested about two years ago, and no contamination was found. He said he didn't know whetherany of the same wells would be tested again.

If the center's owners, H. M. Mall Associates Limited Partnership, and the former owners ofC & C can't or won't pay and the MDE can't prove them responsible, the state will pay for the cleanup through the state's Superfund, which is supported by tax revenue.

The federal Superfund is operated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That much-larger fund is usually reserved for the country's worst and most expensive cleanups, such the $9 million cleanup of Keystone Landfill in Union Township, Pa. Unlike Maryland's Superfund, the federal plan is supported by special taxes paid by industries that produce hazardous materials.

Maryland has its own Superfund list for projects that aren't deemed bad enough to get on the federal list, but still need attention, Goheen said.

Goheen said the state may never be able to determine how the dry-cleaning solvent got into the ground water.

"It could be from dumping, it could be from accidental spillage," he said. "Sometimes we neverfind out."

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