Testing at John Owings landfill will check if cleanup is needed State will determine if chemicals endanger water or are spreading


For Carroll County, the cost of indifference to what people were dumping into landfills decades ago has been $7.6 million to date.

The price tag could be an additional $2.5 million to $3 million if the Maryland Department of the Environment orders the county to cleanse ground water seeping out of the John Owings landfill north of Westminster. The water contains arsenic and cancer-causing chemicals at levels higher than federal standards for safe drinking water.

The well test results have not shown any indication that contaminated water has moved beyond the landfill site.

MDE has no deadline for determining whether to direct the county to install a pumping and treatment system at the landfill. Quentin W. Banks, MDE spokesman, said the decision will be based on the geology and hydrogeology of the site, whether the contaminants seem to be static or indicate potential to increase, whether toxic substances have migrated off the landfill property and how they might affect the neighborhood.

Carroll County is also monitoring ground water that seeps through the closed Bark Hill landfill near Union Bridge and Hodges landfill near Eldersburg under a 9-year-old consent order with MDE. The consent order required the county to cap the landfills, continue monitoring and correct spreading pollution.

Well tests to monitor contamination at those sites cost $300 each. The county has spent $50,000 on tests since monitoring began in 1991.

Wells at all three landfills have shown contaminants higher than Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards.

Bark Hill and Hodges landfills, closed in 1981, show fewer of the problematic petroleum-based compounds and metals than John Owings, which was closed in 1988.

County officials are using new landfill technology to make sure local residents' grandchildren don't have to pay for similar cleanups.

"The old landfill technique was find the lowest spot and fill in the hole," said James E. Slater Jr., county environmental services administrator.

He said landfills now are located at higher elevations. The Northern Landfill at Reese is designed with two liners between the ground and the trash and a system to trap water that seeps through the landfill and send it to collection ponds.

Gary Horst, the county's deputy public works director, does not blame earlier generations for their attitude toward what was known in the 1950s and 1960s as "the dump."

"I wouldn't call it carelessness. I'd call it, that's the way it was done," Horst said. "Hoods Mill [landfill] was built with technology and protection of the environment. John Owings was built when the concern was getting rid of the waste."

Hoods Mill landfill, near Woodbine, was closed last year.

The contaminants that have turned up in Carroll are fairly common in old municipal landfills, said Banks.

L "It's not surprising to see these sorts of things," he said.

The contaminants include vinyl chloride resins used in building materials; chlorines and benzenes usually found in the breakdown of plastics and petrochemicals; cadmium, a metal found in food, tobacco and galvanized pipe; and arsenic, found in pesticides and phosphate fertilizers.

Banks said the petroleum-based compounds such as benzene are "not so caustic that they would burn you to touch, but not something that anyone in his right mind would recommend that you drink."

Monitoring wells at John Owings landfill have turned up eight contaminants at levels above EPA standards. But none has apparently migrated to the neighboring Hashawha Environmental Appreciation Center, where sixth-graders learn about the environment in the county's Outdoor School.

Drinking water at Hashawha is tested by the Carroll County Health Department, which has found the water safe, said Richard Soisson, county recreation and parks director, who supervises the center.

Students work in Bear Branch, which flows between the landfill and the environmental center, but there is no indication that contaminants have reached the stream.

"The kids' hands are wet, their feet are wet, they're down in the stream catching things," said Steve Heacock, Outdoor School coordinator.

He said Bear Branch has insects that indicate healthy streams.

Landfill caps usually solve the problem of water seeping down through layers of trash and picking up pollutants, Banks said.

"Generally, the department's experience with a cap is that it produces good results," he said.

The county government has spent $7.6 million to cap the three landfills. Wells at Hodges and Bark Hill landfills are tested annually; at John Owings, twice a year.

If fewer pollutants turn up in the John Owings landfill wells over the next several years, MDE may reduce the county's testing requirement to once a year, making it very unlikely that a pumping and treating system will be needed.

"What we'd be looking at is a statistically significant decrease. Are you seeing attenuation of pollution over time?" said Slater.

Bark Hill, a landfill near Union Bridge, had unsafe levels of vinyl chloride and cadmium. Hodges landfill, near Eldersburg, registered two petroleum-based compounds for which EPA hasn't established safe drinking water levels. Water in one well on the property contains cadmium higher than the safe drinking level.

Pub Date: 5/28/98

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