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Tainted landfill soil to be taken out of state


Howard County officials bowed yesterday to residents' demands for a total cleanup of Carrs Mill Landfill and announced that they will remove about 4,000 tons of soil contaminated with industrial waste.

They could begin removing soil from the closed dump site in Woodbine as soon as the middle of next month. Between 20 and 40 trucks per day are expected to start carrying the dirt to a yet-to-be determined out-of-state site, in a process that will take more than two months.

The cost of the project likely will be about $1 million.

"We were looking at trying to balance the costs against other factors," said John J. O'Hara, chief of the county's Bureau of Waste Management. "But given what appeared to be a pretty strong preference on the part of the residents, we just figured we'd have to go with the most aggressive route for what the residents perceived as being necessary for their protection."

Said County Executive Charles I. Ecker: "We think this is a reasonable, prudent, responsible thing to do."

Yesterday's announcement appears to end a long-running battle between residents and county officials over the best way to clean up the site, which has been linked to contamination in nearby ground water and streams.

Almost 900 drums of industrial waste were dumped illegally at the landfill, probably in the mid-1970s, according to state records. The landfill closed in 1976.

The drums contained such substances as paints, grease-cutting chemicals and highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. They were discovered by county officials in September 1993 and were removed to a toxic waste dump out of the county last fall.

As county officials dug up the soil around the drums, however, they found that much of the dirt had been contaminated.

The soil to be removed includes several contaminated piles being stored on the property, as well as other dirt in the trench in which the drums were found, Mr. O'Hara said.

It will be taken to an out-of-state hazardous waste landfill, but a location has not been found yet, said James M. Irvin, the county's public works director.

A "soil vacuum extraction" system then will be installed at the site, probably in the late fall, that will extract and cleanse toxic vapors from the remaining dirt.

That system is expected to be in place for a year to 18 months, at which time the landfill will be permanently sealed with a waterproof covering, Mr. O'Hara said.

Tests of the area ground water and streams have found some contamination. Systems for pumping and treating contaminated ground water and collecting methane gas, which is a normal landfill byproduct, will be installed, Mr. Irvin said.

County officials still are trying to tabulate the total cost of the project, which will be the first time the county has done a large-scale soil removal project. But initial estimates suggest that the soil removal and interim vapor extraction system will cost about $1 million, Mr. O'Hara said. The permanent landfill seal and ground water system could cost as much as another $5 million or more, Mr. Irvin said.

The ground water cleanup system that is to be installed at Carrs Mill is similar to ones planned for the county's closed New Cut Road landfill in Ellicott City and its only operating landfill, Alpha Ridge in Marriottsville. Both also have ground water contamination problems.

Although residents of the area could not be reached for comment yesterday, the county's plan appears to comply with their demands that the most contaminated dirt be removed.

At an April meeting on the landfill, residents overwhelmingly favored removal over several other -- and cheaper -- proposals.

Initially, county officials had preferred keeping the dirt at the site and relying solely on the vacuum extraction system to remove the vapors until the permanent ground water cleanup could begin. That plan was estimated to cost about $92,000.

But residents almost unanimously opposed the idea, saying that they wanted the contaminated soil to be taken out of the landfill rather than pushed back into the ground, even though it was the most expensive option.

"Cost is an object, but this seemed to be the most equitable thing to do," Mr. Irvin said.

Neighborhood parks eventually are planned to be built at both the Carrs Mill and New Cut Road sites, and one is open at Alpha Ridge.

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