A Howard County contracting consultant has unearthed about a score of 55-gallon drums at the Carrs Mill landfill that may be the source of ground-water pollution there.
Residents whose property adjoins the landfill have been notified of the discovery, said Public Works Director James M. Irvin. "Nobody should be unduly alarmed."
The drums were discovered as part of the county's search for the source of contamination at Carrs Mill, a 30-acre site that was closed as a landfill 17 years ago. Officials think the drums have been in the ground at least that long and probably longer.
Judging from their odor, the drums probably contained industrial cleaning solvents, Mr. Irvin said. The contents are being analyzed, and the county should have the results within three weeks.
If the contents are found to be hazardous waste, the county may have to spend as much as $100,000 to clean the site, he said.
Other tests are going forward, he said. The consultant assessing the site is looking for more drums with a metal-seeking device similar to those used by coin collectors.
"The only difference between now and a couple of weeks ago, is that we found what may be the source of contamination," said John J. O'Hara, chief of the Bureau of Environmental Services.
Two drums on the surface of the landfill were discovered Sept. 30 as the consultant, GeoTrans Inc., conducted a soil, gas and vapor study, Mr. O'Hara said.
As the drums were being removed, several more were discovered. And in digging those out, 10 more were found beneath the surface, Mr. O'Hara said. About 20 have been found.
For safety's sake, new procedures were used and new equipment was brought in to remove the drums, which were fragile, Mr. O'Hara said. The drums were so decayed that any identification that might have been written on them is impossible to decipher.
Gail Tarrico, who lives across the street from the landfill, said she believes her drinking water is safe because her 160-foot well taps into an aquifer that comes from a direction opposite the landfill. The county checked her wells last spring and again four or five months ago. She said she is planning a to hire a private company to test it again soon.
What concerns Ms. Tarrico more than her well water is Cattail Creek, a stream that runs near the foot of her property and drains into the lower Patapsco River.
She said she recently took an ecology course at Johns Hopkins (( University that taught her how to evaluate the health of steams and that her findings are not good.
"There were no critters there that are supposed to be signs of healthy water," she said. "No slugs, no tiny fish, no nothing."
Mr. O'Hara said the ecology of streams is complex. "All kinds of factors affect the stress of water," he said.
The county has not done a biological test of the creek, but based on crude observations, the creek does not show signs of stress, he said.
The Carrs Mill study will be completed in December. It was undertaken in conjunction with a study of the old New Cut Road landfill and the current Alpha Ridge landfill.
Analysis of ground water at all three sites indicated that contamination was occurring at each. The studies are designed to help the county decide what steps will be needed to end the contamination and secure the sites from future pollution. Nearly $430,000 has been spent on the project.