Two public wells that were closed because of their proximity to a toxic cleanup site could be reconnected to Hampstead's water supply, if test results convince state officials the wells are safe.
Hampstead's Town Council has taken the first step toward drawing water from the wells that the town voluntarily closed in the early 1990s, when Black & Decker Corp. began a cleanup of contamination at its plant south of town.
The council approved Tuesday night a $5,590 contract with Maryland Environmental Services to begin tests on the wells. The tests will be used to apply to the Maryland Department of the Environment for permits to use the wells, said Town Manager Kenneth Decker.
"We have no doubt they're going to test well for water," Decker said.
MDE would hold public hearings and conduct further testing once the town applies with preliminary test results.
The wells have never shown contamination, and neither has a monitoring well between those wells and the toxic cleanup site, Decker said.
Black & Decker officials refused the town's request for help in March to get the wells back on line. A company spokeswoman told The Sun that Black & Decker was concerned that pumping water from the wells could affect its cleanup effort, which involves pumping and cleaning groundwater at the plant.
The town never meant to give up the wells permanently, Decker said. The testing approved this week by the council will help determine whether the wells are safe, he said.
If the permits are denied by the state Department of the Environment, Decker said, the town will have cause to press Black & Decker for compensation for the loss of the two wells.
The contamination could date back several decades.
While testing for contamination from a nearby gasoline station tank leak in 1985, Black & Decker discovered that wells on its site were contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene (PCE), cleaning solvents and metal degreasers that Black & Decker once stored in above-ground tanks there.
TCE and PCE, also used in dry cleaning, are suspected human carcinogens, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
They were among the contaminants in municipal groundwater wells in Woburn, Mass., whose residents blamed industrial pollution in public wells for a cluster of childhood leukemia cases. That contamination - chronicled in the book "A Civil Action" - led to a landmark cleanup program that is continuing.
In the early 1990s, Hampstead officials believed that they would eventually regain use of the wells as Black & Decker pumped and cleaned the water on its site, said Decker, who was not working for the town then.