MDE official to answer questions on MTBE-tainted wells in Carroll

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Hampstead officials have invited residents to a long-sought meeting with an official of the Maryland Department of the Environment to answer questions and to consider remedies for the presence of the gasoline additive MTBE in wells in a neighborhood just east of town.

The meeting has been set for 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at Town Hall, said Town Manager Ken Decker, who sent letters Thursday inviting 40 to 50 area residents. Herbert M. Meade, administrator of the MDE's Waste Management Administration's Oil Control Program, is scheduled to attend.

"We hope MDE can answer questions," Decker said. "We know people up there are concerned about this and we think MDE needs to show a sense of urgency about not only finding the source of the problem, but a long-term plan to deal with it."

He said town officials plan to raise the possibility of annexing the neighborhood and connecting it to public water, which would bypass the need for remedies such as filtration systems.

MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is an additive that makes gasoline burn more cleanly. Studies have shown that inhaling it causes cancer in lab animals at high doses, but its effects on humans when found in drinking water are unknown.

The investigation began in Carroll County's Hillcrest Avenue area in September 2003 after an apartment complex tenant complained of a gasoline smell in the water.

The Environmental Protection Agency set its lowest action level for MTBE occurrence at 20 parts per billion, said Richard J. McIntire, an MDE spokesman. MDE uses the same standard for individual wells, but has a lower threshold of 10 parts per billion for community or public water systems.

Since last January, 10 carbon-filtration systems have been installed at state expense and no MTBE readings have registered above the recommended level, MDE and county health officials said.

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