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 in Woodbine that was closed as a landfill 17 years ago. Officials believe 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, the county may have to spend up to $100,000 to clean up the site, Mr. Irvin said.
Other tests are continuing, he said. The consultant assessing the site is looking for additional drums with a metal-seeking device similar to those used by coin collectors.
"The only difference between now and a couple of weeks ago," said John J. O'Hara, chief of the Bureau of Environmental Services, "is that we found what may be the source of contamination."
Two drums on the surface of the landfill were discovered Sept. 30 as the consultant, GeoTrans Inc., was conducting 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. In all, about 20 have been found.
For safety's sake, equipment was brought in to remove the drums, which were in fragile condition, Mr. O'Hara said. The drums were so decayed that any identification that might have been written on them is now indecipherable.
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 her property and drains into the lower Patapsco River.
She said she had taken an ecology course at the Johns Hopkins University recently 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."
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 of them. 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.