Carol Hafer is worried about the potential health risks that her contaminated well water might have on her grandchildren. Cathy Davies says she knows that drinking the water long-term could cause kidney or liver cancer. But she wonders what exactly constitutes “long term.” Marion Clark is still waiting for test results to see if her water has been polluted.
The three residents of Redrose Drive in Broad Run Farms live adjacent to the privately owned Hidden Lane Landfill, which closed in 1985. Well testing at a newly constructed home on Redrose Drive showed the water had been contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), which is used to remove grease from metal parts. The results led the Loudoun County Health Department to start testing other wells near the landfill and further west of it.
Alan Brewer, the department’s environmental health manager, said 20 wells so far contain TCE. Wells on Redrose Drive and the eastern part of Youngs Cliff Road near the Potomac River have been affected, he said. The cause might be the 35-acre landfill, but different tests would have to be administered to confirm the source.
DRINKING SMALL amounts of TCE for long periods of time may cause liver and kidney damage, impaired immune system function and impaired fetal development in pregnant women, although the extent of these effects is not yet clear, according to Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Clark said she is concerned. Her family is using bottled water while they wait for test results.
Davies said the contamination jumps around, with some neighbors having no problems. She said the carcinogens seem to be following the creek that runs alongside the landfill, and runs between the former disposal site and her house, she said. “Our level is too high,” she said. “I’d like to know if it [the source] was the landfill.”
She said her well has .08 milligrams per liter, exceeding .005 milligrams per liter, the maximum level allowed in drinking water that has been set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the Loudoun County Department of Health, said the contaminated levels are “low as compared to occupational levels.” Employees who developed TCE or used it as a degreaser eight to 12 hours daily in poorly ventilated buildings were subjected to much higher concentrations, he said. Some of the levels in Broad Run Farms were 10 to 20 times the maximum allowed, but exposure was more limited than that of the employees. He said he could not provide the occupational levels.
Goodfriend addressed Davies’ concern about health risks based on long-term use, saying the timetable is defined as “years to decades.”
“There is no definite timeline,” he said. “The longer you are exposed to it, the risk goes up.”
DAVIES SAID she would have to look up the symptoms of liver and kidney cancer. Goodfriend said residents can take a test to determine if they have cancer. “But what we’re seeing, we aren’t recommending anyone getting tested at this low level of exposure we’re seeing.”
There have been no indication of significant risk to the immune system, he said.
Davies said she considered buying bottled water rather than spend money on a filtration system. Her husband, however, said the well water would be safe to drink after a filtration system is installed. He is a chemist and microbiologist.
Meanwhile, she said she is not concerned enough to stop drinking the water. “Four more weeks isn’t going to hurt. We’ve been living with it for seven years,” she said.
Hafer said she and her family have lived in their home for 40 years. The well pollutants came as a surprise. She is shopping around for a filtration system, which according to her neighbors could cost anywhere from $700 to $3,000. Until officials determine whether the landfill owner is responsible, residents will have to pay for the system.
She said it was a blessing that residents learned about the problem.
GOODFRIEND SAID 14 of the 60 wells tested have TCE at or above the EPA maximum of .005 milligrams per liter. Six more have the contaminant, but below the maximum allowed. Another 26 were found to be free of the pollutant. Results on 14 are pending, and the Health Department has been called to test at least three more wells this week. Brewer said some residents have been out of town and just learned of the problem.
Bruce Tulloch, who serves as vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors and who represents the community, said the county has contacted the landfill owner. There were two owners, but one has passed away, he said.
He would not identify them, because he said the case “is in litigation.”
“The county is putting its full faith and resources to do everything possible to remediate the situation there,” he said. “It is private property, but we’re looking at every solution.”
Goodfriend said the residents with the polluted wells have three options: install water filtration systems, bring public water to the 53-year-old community or not to do anything. The filtration system would cost $2,500 to $3,500 per home, he said.
Sam Villegas, spokeswoman for the Loudoun County Sanitation Authority, estimated it would cost $1.7 million to bring public water to the affected residents plus a $4,000 connection fee for each house. “If we were to do the whole development, it would cost $6 million or more,” she said.
Broad Run Farms is located off Route 7 near the Dulles Town Center. The Potomac River and Broad Run tributary run alongside the community.