Annapolis officials are negotiating with state environmental regulators to monitor and contain contaminated ground water at the city landfill as they prepare to close it at the end of the year.
The city is working out the last details in an agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment to shut the 70-acre facility Dec. 31, even though the mayor and City Council still hope to expand it eventually.
Like many other old landfills, the Annapolis disposal site was built without a protective plastic liner.
Over the years, pollutants have leached into ground water near the site off Defense Highway.
Although contamination is limited, a couple of monitoring wells have shown pollutant levels exceeding federal drinking water standards, said John Goheen, a spokesman for the environment department.
The problem, first detected a decade ago, most likely was caused by dumping dry-cleaning chemicals and household solvents in the landfill before environmental studies showed they leaked rapidly into ground water.
"It's not surprising that you would find some contamination in an old landfill," Mr. Goheen said. "What you have are the kinds of things that people typically threw out with the garbage in years past."
Several city elected officials said they were not aware of the contamination until they read a recent memo from the mayor updating them on the landfill.
But City Attorney Jonathan Hodgson said it has been known for years.
"I've never heard anything about it," countered Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, D-Ward 8, who fought for the landfill expansion.
Last April, council members seized on the discovery of contamination at the county's landfill in Millersville as the basis to permit the 79-acre expansion. At the time, they declared repeatedly that the city's facility had been problem-free.
Led by Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, county officials rejected the city's expansion request in 1990.
The city has appealed that decision in Circuit Court, but even if the ruling were overturned, the city is not likely to win permission from the state to build the expansion for years, said John E.C. Patmore, director of public works.
To close the landfill, environmental regulators are requiring the city to cap it with two feet of soil, a plastic liner and another two feet of soil to keep the contamination from spreading, Mr. Goheen said.
The city also may have to clean up some of the pollutants and continue monitoring the site.
The city has budgeted $5 million to cap the landfill, Mr. Patmore said.
But no money has been set aside to contain or clean up the ground-water contamination because the city is not sure what process the state will require.
Mr. Patmore is reviewing a consent agreement with the state and plans to give it to Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins to sign as early as today.
Meanwhile, the city is comparing costs to determine whether to privatize its garbage collection once its landfill is closed and city trash is hauled to the county dump in Millersville. The county has agreed to begin accepting trash from the city's 8,400 customers on Nov. 3.