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Votes

State To Pay for Filtration

The Department of Environmental Quality to fund systems for homeowners with contaminated wells.

Denise Mazzan had a house full of guests on a recent Friday night. Her youngest daughter and her son each were having a sleepover, and she was chatting with two friends at the kitchen table. Every few minutes, a child would interrupt Mom with a question.

The boys wanted to know where the girls were, so they could play a game. The girls wanted to know if they could have a snack. How about some soda?

Mazzan offered one boy a glass of water. He wasn’t interested. She steered the girls away from the soft drinks, and met protests when she suggested water. Then Mazzan offered water to her friends. They declined.

Finally, with just a trace of frustration, she said the water was safe to drink. After all, she had spent $6,900 on a whole house filtration system to protect her family from the TCE contaminating their well.

MAZZAN LIVES in Broad Run Farms, where 22 wells have low levels of TCE. The carcinogen is a chemical used to remove grease from metal parts. Drinking water with small amounts of TCE over long periods of time can cause liver and kidney damage, impaired immune system function and impaired fetal development in pregnant women, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

State and county officials suspect the adjacent Hidden Lane Landfill, which operated without a county permit from 1971 to 1984, is the source of the TCE. The owners repeatedly violated restrictions on what materials were allowed to be dumped at the site, Office of Solid Waste Management records show. The unlawful waste led the county to successfully sue the owners in 1983 to shut down the facility.

State and county officials discovered two wells with TCE in 1989 and another six in the next 15 years, but they didn’t begin widespread testing until this year. They plan to sample the landfill soil to determine if it is the source.

Health and environmental leaders met with residents last Wednesday to discuss how they plan to handle the hazard.

JEFFERY STEERS, regional director of the Northern Regional Office of the Department of Environmental Quality, announced that the state will use a special fund to pay for filtration systems for the homes with the contaminated wells.

"It's a fund established under Virginia law to address releases, particularly petroleum, into the environment that impact innocent landowners," he said.

The money has never been used for a situation such as this, he added. The state drew on the fund when wells became contaminated after Hurricane Isabelle.

The ideal way to protect residents from TCE is to bring in public water, he said. But residents would have to decide whether to pursue that multi-million dollar alternative. One option would be for residents to pay an additional tax, just as they did when they brought public sewer to the community.

Steers said a contractor could start installing the filtration systems in about a month. The process should take two weeks. The DEQ also will pay $400 to $500 a year to maintain the filtration systems.

"There would be some point in time, somebody else would have to pay for the operation and maintenance," he added.

The county’s Public Safety Committee met Monday night to discuss the proposal. Scott York, chairman of the Board of Supervisors and a committee member, said the panel objected to the state’s plan to pay for monitoring for only two years. It is not fair, considering the property owners were victims, he said Tuesday.

York said Public Safety Committee members want the owners to pay for public water.

ASSISTANT COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR John Sandy said the DEQ and the Health Department would work together and continue to sample some of the wells close to the contaminated ones. If they show TCE levels, then the state also would pay for filtration systems for them, he said.

Steers said the state eventually would try to get reimbursement from the party responsible for the contamination.

Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the Loudoun County Health Department, said most of the subdivision's wells are toxin-free, but he could not guarantee the wells in the contaminated area would remain that way. "Five years from now it could be a problem," he said. "Rather than keep testing, you really should consider a whole house filtration system."

Steers said payment, however, would not be provided for testing outside the contaminated area.

Goodfriend said whole house filtration is needed, because it is unhealthy to breathe TCE when bathing or showering. At levels higher than those in Broad Run Farms, the contaminant also can penetrate the skin, he said.

Mazzan wondered if the DEQ could use the fund to reimburse her. "What if you already bought the filtration system?" she asked. Her TCE level was six times the 0.005 milligrams per liter, the maximum contaminant level set by the Environmental Protection Agency. She said she couldn’t continue to expose her three children to TCE while someone figured out who would pay for system. She even paid extra money to ensure she had a top-of-the-line system.

A resident of Broad Run Farms for 13 years, she worries the TCE might have made her ill. She had breast cancer, and her child had a birth defect. She learned about the TCE in March, along with her neighbors on the lower end of Youngs Cliff Road.

Steers said the fund would not be available for reimbursement purposes, but he would look for another solution.

STEERS ALSO RECOMMENDED that residents petition the EPA to designate the Hidden Lane Landfill as a Superfund site, even though it has not been tested yet to determine if it is the actual source of TCE. If land qualifies as a Superfund site, the EPA will clean up the site and go after the people responsible for the pollution.

He said the state would use a GeoProbe to drill holes in the landfill and remove "cores” of soil for testing. The machine is similar to a drilling rig on the back of a truck, but it's more sophisticated, he said.

The DEQ cannot rely on the landfill's old monitoring wells, because they are in poor shape and would not provide accurate readings, he said. If the site is the source, state officials will issue a notice of violation to the owners. Steers said they will use the process to document the facts and alleged violations. The owners will be given an opportunity to add to or dispute the findings.

The goal is to develop a negotiated consent agreement identifying the terms for cleaning up the site, he said.

Steers said the state will try to get the owners to finance the project. "I won't say that's very promising," he added. "If the party is unwilling or does not have the means to clean up the site, than we would explore other alternatives."

The owners are Philip Smith and the estate of Albert Moran. Smith is in poor health and was living in Florida, but he has moved back to Virginia.

"Mr. Smith is in very frail health and the control of his estate may be in flux," said a hand-out provided by Vice Chairman Bruce Tulloch at the meeting. Tulloch told the residents that officials have spoken to the owner so often, that he now refers all questions to his attorney, Richard Dixon. He was unavailable for comment.

Tulloch said the owners should pay for the clean-up. "They made a lot of money dumping ... and they should be held accountable," he said.

Once the soil samples are taken, the state, the EPA or the landfill owners' contractor will collect more soil samples and install new monitoring wells. An assessment will be made to determine the rate and extent of contamination.

"We need to understand the hydrogeology, that is, the direction and flow of groundwater," Steers said. "More wells can be installed to follow the path of the contamination until there is confidence that the outer most boundary is found."

This could include installation of additional monitoring wells off the landfill property, he added.

"These things are not cheap, these investigations and cleanups. And this is not something that is going to happen overnight," Steers said. He estimated it could take five years to clean up the pollution.

The contaminated wells were all north of Persimmon Lane in the easternmost part of Broad Run Farms.