- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is considering going beyond a new gasoline-leak disclosure law and notifying residents about old underground leaks that could contaminate nearby wells.

Since the law took effect 10 months ago, the state environmental agency and county health departments have alerted neighboring residents of 10 newly discovered fuel leaks.

The law requires authorities to inform people living nearby when high levels of harmful gasoline are discovered in groundwater or soil.

But new discoveries account for a small fraction of the total number of fuel leaks being investigated and cleaned up across the state.

A database on MDE’s Web site (www.mde.state.md.us) shows that the department has more than 2,000 underground-contamination cases pending.

Residents of Baltimore and Harford counties have been upset to learn of earlier gas leaks that also could pose threats to wells, the Baltimore Sun reported Sunday.

Under pressure from community activists and legislators, officials say they are considering informing residents of at least some of the older underground fuel leaks.

“That’s one thing we’re struggling on here: how to get the word out on our existing cases, especially in high-risk groundwater areas,” said Herbert Meade, chief of MDE’s oil control program, who oversees regulation of fuel tanks and leak cleanups.

Mr. Meade said as many as 200 to 300 old groundwater-contamination cases might be serious enough to warrant notifying nearby residents.

Horacio Tablada, MDE’s waste management director and Mr. Meade’s supervisor, cautioned that no decision has been made on how — or even whether — word would be spread about the older leaks.

He said state officials need to compile fact sheets on the older cases and coordinate any disclosure of them with local health departments.

“We heard the citizens,” Mr. Tablada said. “We want to have full disclosure, but we want to have good information. … We need to be cautious about how fast we move, so we don’t create more confusion.”

The Fallston area of Harford County was the scene of the state’s most widespread underground fuel leak in 2004.

Residents say they were disturbed to learn that a 7-Eleven store in the area that sells gasoline had been treating its well water for years to remove high levels of the gas additive known as MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, which has caused cancer in laboratory animals.

Delegate Barry Glassman, a Harford County Republican who sponsored the leak-notification bill, said a failure to notify residents about older leaks goes against the spirit of the law.

He said he is prepared to press for legislation next year to require notification.

“If for, say, 10 years, [the contamination] hasn’t been above the actionable level,” Mr. Glassman said, “I can understand there’s no need to reopen the case and do a notification. But where they’re still getting findings [of MTBE] above 20 parts per billion, the reasonable thing would be to go ahead and do a notification and let folks know.”

The state recommends filtering or replacing water that shows 20 parts per billion or more of MTBE because it can be tasted or smelled. There is no evidence that such levels affect health.

About 200 households in the Fallston area have filtration systems treating their well water to remove MTBE.

Mr. Meade said “communities have a right to know” about older fuel leaks that are still contaminating groundwater.

“We post them on the [department’s] Web site,” he said, “but it doesn’t seem to be getting the word out.”

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