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State wants dump owner to study site's contamination


State environmental regulators want the operators of an Abingdon rubble dump to have studies done to determine the source and extent of contamination at the site.

The move by the state Department of the Environment comes after the county government and a citizens group asked for the studies after unacceptable levels of two chemical compounds were found at the dump, located on Abingdon Road.

The rubble dump operator, Spencer Sand & Gravel Inc., is seeking state approval for an 18-acre expansion at its 51-acre dump along both sides of Abingdon Road near Interstate 95.

Tests from samples taken from the dump by the state in March confirmed that two chemical compounds, trichloroethylene and dichloroethene, are present at the site.

Trichloroethylene is a solvent generally used as a degreaser. It is suspected of causing cancer. Dichloroethene is also a solvent. It can harm the liver, nervous and circulatory systems.

Edward Dexter, acting chief of the department's Solid Waste Enforcement Division, said, "The presence of such contaminants is of concern because solvents are seldom detected in monitoring wells at rubble landfills because of the restricted [material] that is permitted at such facilities."

Dexter said in his April 15 letter to Spencer that "the source of these chemicals may be something other than the rubble landfill. Other possible sources include vehicle maintenance areas on or off site."

The dump, in operation since the late 1970s, is allowed to accept materials such as tree stumps, soil and concrete, according to its state permit.

Spencer has provided the state with its plan for the studies, but company spokesman William Geary declined to comment on the plan until the department approves the proposal.

"It's really not that serious of a problem," Geary said of the contamination. "I think a lot of people are making a big issue out of something that is not that bad."

Geary noted that state environmental officials have said that people would have to ingest large amounts of the compounds over a long period to be harmed by the chemicals.

The state's request for the study came at the same time Wayne Fox, a Havre de Grace geologist working with residents concerned about the rubble fill, sent a letter to the department stressing the need for such a study.

The study proposed by Fox, similar to one requested by County Eileen M. Rehrmann in March, would require Spencer to identify the extent of contamination at its site, how fast the contamination is moving and a "health risk assessment" caused by the contamination.

"All drinking-water wells located down-gradient from the landfill are potentially at risk of contamination at some future time," Fox said in his April 10 letter.

Fox, who works as a geologist at Aberdeen Proving Ground, prepared the letter based on reviews of Spencer and state records on the dump for the Concerned Citizens of Abingdon, a group opposed to the dump's expansion.

The geologist has conducted similar reviews for citizens opposed to a proposed rubble dump along Gravel Hill Road near Havre de Grace.

In March, state tests confirmed that the two chemical compounds at the site were at levels beyond state and federal limits.

"As long as the contamination has the potential to reach [water supplies], I think there will be a high level of concern," Fox said.

The compounds were discovered in two monitoring wells about 2,000 feet apart. Spencer has a total of 17 monitoring wells at the rubble fill.

While there are some private water wells near the rubble fill, all new subdivisions under construction are served with public water services, minimizing the risk posed by any contaminants, county planning officials say.

Several developers, however, are being required by the county to notify potential homebuyers of the subdivision's proximity to the rubble fill and presence of the contaminants.

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