Company gets permit to pump water into river State approval called safe for chemical cleanup


The Maryland Department of the Environment has approved a discharge permit allowing W. R. Grace & Co. to pump treated ground water into the Middle Patuxent River.

Grace sought the state permit for its Columbia facility off Route 32 to increase from 50,000 gallons to 130,000 the amount of water it pumps daily from contaminated aquifers on its 125 acres.

Grace & Co. officials and state environmental regulators say that the increased pumping will decrease the possibility of contamination spreading to wells, and lessen possible health hazards and damage to streams that feed into the Middle Patuxent River.

At the current rate, the $3.5 million to $5 million cleanup would take at least 30 years.

The property off Route 32, which Grace has owned since 1957, became contaminated in the mid-1970s after a spill left potentially harmful levels of trichloroethylene, a solvent that can cause cancer or birth defects; cis-1-2-dichloroethene, a solvent that may cause liver damage; and 1,1-dichloroethene, a surgical solvent, in the ground water supply.

Ed Gertler, the Maryland Department of Environment's project manager for the Grace cleanup, has said that such chemicals are potentially harmful. However, the state approves most discharge permits for such uses.

State regulations require only that officials "make sure that each permit is adequate to do the job."

Since 1989, the company has pumped the contaminated water out of the underground aquifer, treated it in its carbon filtration system and used it as drinking water for its 500 employees, discharging 50,000 gallons a day.

Grace officials say that once the water drains to three wells on their campus and is treated, it is safe for drinking.

They say the carbon filters used in the company's treatment plant absorb the toxic chemicals.

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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