Friday, March 18, 2005

Water, Water, Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink

According to a report in today's Baltimore Sun, monitoring wells in the Lower Patapsco Aquifer that serves Piney Orchard and Odenton have found cancer-causing chemicals at levels 4 times the federal government's contamination standards. The aquifer provides water for "potentially hundreds of area homes and businesses", according to the piece.

So from whence did the tetrachloroethene, a dry-cleaning solution, and carbon tetrachloride, a pesticide, come? Well, the Superfund-designated, covered landfill that sits on the Fort Meade site is the leading suspect. Since 1994, problems have been identified with well water near the base. Now, despite the preliminary findings, the County Health Department isn't recommending that residents with wells in the aquifer change their drinking habits. "Chemicals may not be present in their water," said a Department spokesperson. As evidence of the Administration's commitment to the matter, they hadn't sent a representative to the meetings of Fort Meade's Restoration Advisory Board, which deals with issues such as groundwater contamination, for the past year. As a result, the County only became aware of the problem 2 weeks ago, while the Board has been discussing it since August 2004.

Word from the State hasn't been much more reassuring. The Maryland Department of the Environment spokesperson said, "If a problem with the homes arises [regarding water contamination], we will work with the county to provide an alternative and safe water supply, like [hooking into] the public water system." Certainly better for homeowners, but what about the critical aquifers that sit below the base, continually having all sorts of nasty toxins leach into them? I think we haven't even begun to get a sense of the extent of this mess yet.

If your well happens to be in the aquifer, you can either take the County's advice, and pour yourself another cool, tall glass of the strange brew from your tap, or you can exercise a bit of sensible precaution. May not be a bad idea to get yourself some bottled water, particularly if you have young ones in the house.

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