A week after being warned of a dangerously high amount of chlorine in their water, customers of Campus Hills Water Works near Churchville were told Friday afternoon that their tap water was safe.
In a notice distributed door to door, the Maryland Department of the Environment said that bacteriologic samples collected from the water distribution system last week were free of contamination and that "the water is now safe to use for drinking and cooking."
Meanwhile, a hearing is scheduled Tuesday in Baltimore Circuit Court on the state's request for an injunction forcing the private water company to hire a competent, state-approved operator to take over its management.
The state wants Maryland Environmental Service, which stepped last weekend to stabilize the situation, to operate the system until it is brought into compliance.
Campus Hills Water Works, which serves 72 homes and 18 businesses, has had problems maintaining an adequate, clean water supply since June, when breaks in a water line and contamination of a well left residents without drinking water for several days.
On Nov. 2 the state filed suit against the firm's owner, Dr. Charles C. Edwards, charging that he had failed to make necessary repairs agreed to in a consent order.
Dr. Edwards, a Baltimore physician, is also the developer of Campus Valley Estates, one of two subdivisions the system supplies. It also serves the Park Campus residential community and the Campus Hills Shopping Center.
The latest problem developed Nov. 5, when levels of chlorine in the system were measured at 20 parts per million and higher. Normal residual levels of chlorine, which is added to drinking water as a disinfectant, are maintained at about 1 or 2 parts per million.
While the state got a court injunction that afternoon allowing Maryland Environmental Service to assume temporary control of the company, customers were warned not to use the water for drinking, cooking, bathing or washing. Excessive chlorine can irritate the eyes and respiratory system, they were told.
After MES flushed the system last weekend, chlorine levels returned to normal and last Sunday residents were told they could use water for bathing and cleaning.
But the flushing operation drained the water system's elevated storage tank and MES was forced to truck in water from the county system to fill the tank. The water introduced into the system had to be tested for bacteria before it could be certified safe to drink.
Last Monday, Circuit Judge Ellen Heller extended the injunction allowing the quasi-public MES to oversee the water company until Nov. 24.
The environmental service, which designs and operates landfills, sewage plants and other facilities for state and local agencies, can spend up to two hours a day monitoring the water treatment plant and taking corrective actions, she said.
While the immediate crisis appears to have passed, the problems in the community are far from over, according to environmental officials.
"Consistency has been a problem out there all along," says Woody Williams, of the Harford County Health Department, which has been monitoring the Campus Hills situation since summer.
Mr. Williams said that a chlorinator -- a device that regulates the amount of chlorine in the system -- has been malfunctioning and needs constant adjustment.
In addition, he said, two of the system's three wells are out of commission. One of the wells was taken down Oct. 5 for an indefinite period when traces of fecal coliform bacteria -- the bacteria found in sewage -- were discovered. The second was taken down by MES last Sunday for the same reason.
"Operating on only one well is certainly not the best-case scenario," said Mr. Williams, the county's chief of environmental water quality.
Dane Bauer, deputy director of MDE, said, "With just one well providing water, it is a marginal operation. But it should be adequate until the second well is up." That could happen in "a matter of days," he said.
On Friday Dr. Edwards criticized Maryland Environmental Service, saying it was "highly irresponsible" in pulling his operators off the job last weekend and flushing the storage tank.
"They wasted valuable water, draining the tower and driving the chlorine level too low and then didn't bother to retest well No. 2 and bring it back on line," he said.
The decision of who will pay for the services of MES will be made in court.