A plume from the Hidden Lane Landfill, under investigation as the possible source of Trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination in 25 Broad Run Farms' residential wells, is a potential threat to the Loudoun and Fairfax counties' water supply, officials say.
Loudoun Supervisor Scott York (I-At large) described the problem. "It seems to be moving a little bit and it appears to be headed toward the Potomac River," he said. "If the leaching comes into the Potomac River, there's the intake ... to Fairfax's water."
The Fairfax County water supply also services Loudoun County residents.
Richard Doucette, waste program manager of the Northern Regional Office of Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality, said Monday that six TCE-contaminated wells on Youngs Cliff Road are close to the Potomac River. "This data suggests that the plume of TCE in the groundwater has reached the Potomac River," he said.
Doucette said the EPA, however, collected seven water and sediment samples from the Potomac River in October 2005, and no TCE or organic compounds exceeded maximum contaminant levels. "The intake for the Fairfax County water supply is on the Potomac River, and it is downstream from the landfill, so there is a concern, but the current data suggests that the contamination is not affecting the river," he said.
Linda Baxter, Region III EPA site assessment manager, agreed, "There is no evidence we are aware of that it is moving toward the Potomac," she said. The agency has begun testing again, because of gaps in the data retrieved from samples at the landfill and the adjacent community in October 2005 and January 2006, she said.
LOW LEVELS of the carcinogen, TCE, a cleaner used to remove grease from metal parts, was discovered two years ago. Drinking water with small amounts of TCE over long periods of time can cause liver and kidney damage, impaired immune system and impaired fetal development in pregnant women, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Doucette said an analysis of the October 2005 soil, sediment and water samples found two additional wells with "human health concerns" and their wells were added to the list of those that would be monitored and have a carbon filtration unit installed. The DEQ has carbon filtration systems on 21 wells and is monitoring for TCE at three residences with a high risk of becoming contaminated, he said. Some residents declined to have filtration systems installed.
Baxter said the EPA identified 22 wells with TCE, but Allen Brewer, manager of Environmental Health, said the agency did not test the three other wells that the country has found to be contaminated with TCE.
Doucette said the EPA is conducting the tests in support of the proposal to place the landfill on the Superfund National Priority List. "Although the additional sampling may assist in locating a potential source, it is unlikely that one will be found since the sampling will be limited to a depth of 15 feet," he said. “TCE is a dense material, heavier than water. It sinks vertically down.”
THE LANDFILL has passed three of the four criteria needed to qualify it as a Superfund site, Baxter said. The upcoming tests could lead to the dump qualifying for Superfund money, which the EPA would use to finance the cleanup and then seek reimbursement from the party responsible for the pollution. The landfill is owned by Philip Smith and the late Albert Moran. Smith and the Moran estate were trying to sell the land to a developer two years ago, until news of the TCE surfaced. Smith's attorney Richard Dixon has maintained there is no evidence the landfill is the source of the TCE.
Letters between Jim Burke, director of the Environmental Protection Agency Region III Hazardous Site Cleanup Division, and David Paylor, director of Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, indicate they are in concurrence with the desire to place the landfill on the Superfund National Priority List.
York, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said Virginia officials have said the commonwealth does not have the capital for cleanup. "We're hoping, not only will the site get cleaned up, but the money will be provided for a public water supply."
Doucette said the EPA would decide whether to install a public water supply if the landfill is placed on the Superfund National Priority List. The agency could install the public water for the entire community or a portion of it, he added.
Denise Mazzan, a resident whose well was infected with TCE, objected to providing public water to only some residents. “The TCE could continue moving. The underwater aquifers web out. Anyone could be a sitting duck,” she said.
The Loudoun County Sanitation Authority has estimated the cost of bringing water to Broad Run Farms, would be $1.7 million. Broad Run Farms residents currently obtain water from their individual wells.
MAZZAN SAID some residents are opposed to placing the site on the Superfund National Priority Listing, because of an expected adverse impact on their property values. Others prefer the taste of well water to county waters, she said. “They made us believe from the get go that our community could decide whether to go on the Superfund,” she said.
Doucette countered, “We can’t make a decision based on the value of houses. We’re concerned about the health of the community particularly the people who may be drinking the water or potentially will drink it.”
Eric DeJonghe, saying he was speaking as a resident and not as vice president of the Broad Run Farms Civic Association, said it's clear the landfill will be placed on the National Priority List. The positive side is that property values will bounce back after the public water is installed, he said. "Not only will it bring it to what it should be, but it will increase [the property values] by 10 or 20 percent."
DeJonghe said the community has spent 30 years fighting the landfill, "and now there's a beginning and an end. It is what it is and we're going to fix it.
"I believe in this neighborhood."
Baxter said an analysis of this month's testing could take a maximum of three months. Then the information is sent to the EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., for a final decision.
DeJonghe said the cleanup will take years. "It makes no difference to me," he said. "I would buy back here without thinking twice. … Everyone loves it here."
Broad Run Farms is Sterling’s oldest planned community, established in 1952. Overhanging trees line the narrow streets, giving way to a rural sense of community. The neighborhood hugs the Potomac River and the Broad Run tributary, providing launching sites for boaters who fish from Brunswick to Riverbend.
The hamlet features home businesses, such as landscaping, construction, signage, automotive repair and a horse farm.
MAZZAN SAID the cleanup will be good for Broad Run Farms. "I'm actually glad they are going to take care of it," she said. "It's sad though that … the Fairfax County water supply could be affected. If it were taken care of 20 years ago, it wouldn't be a problem today. It's the state's fault."
Virginia and Loudoun County were aware of two wells with TCE in 1989 and another six wells in the next 15 years, but did not begin widespread testing until 2005, Loudoun environmental records show. Because of unlawful waste, Loudoun County filed suit in 1983 to shut down the landfill, which had been operating without a county permit since 1971, the records show. The state Department of Health, however, issued a debris landfill permit. The court ruled in the county's favor and referred the case to a Commissioner of Chancery to mediate a plan for closure. The landfill closed in 1984.