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Wells near Boonsboro found to be contaminated

June 04, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The drinking water from some wells along Old National Pike near Boonsboro is contaminated with fecal bacteria and may contain pathogens that can cause disease, but neither town nor county officials are willing to pay the costs to resolve the matter.

Washington County Health Department officials told the County Commissioners Tuesday of water problems affecting 80 homes and nine businesses and churches along Old National Pike from Lappans Road (Md. 68) to Mill Point Road.

The affected areas are the Scenic View Mobile Home Park, Victory Baptist Church and Faith Christian Academy, Tri-State Church of God, Boonsboro Produce, M&T Bank, Boonsboro Pharmacy, National Pike Grille & Pub, Yellow House, Boonsboro Ambulance Co., private wells and a residential development on Scenic View Court, according to the Health Department.

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Laurie Bucher, the Health Department's director of environmental health, said pathogens in the surface water can cause diseases such as giardia, legionella, hepatitis and cryptospordium.

Those diseases can cause flu-like symptoms and can result in a person becoming seriously ill, she said.

"The (Maryland Department of the Environment) and (Washington County Health Department) believe that the wells in this area pose a serious public health risk to consumers ..." Bucher wrote in a memo to the commissioners.

Bucher said it's possible people may have become ill from what they thought was the flu, but the symptoms may have been related to contaminated water.

"It is scary," Bucher said after the meeting. "They could get flu-like symptoms and not even know it (came from the water)."

She said that in the 1960s and 1970s, the county had outbreaks of hepatitis in Sharpsburg and near Huyetts Crossroads because of contaminated well water. Those areas were hooked up to public water as a result, Bucher said.

Bucher said that while some of the wells along Old National Pike use chlorination and ultraviolet treatment on the water, those methods are not sufficient to remove the pathogens.

"None of these wells currently have adequate treatment in place to remove pathogens that may be present in surface water," she said.

The contaminated water is a result of Washington County's terrain, which is prone to sinkholes, caverns, cracks and crevices. The pathogens in the water may pass from the sinkholes and cracks to the wells, thus contaminating the drinking water, according to the Health Department.

The Health Department and the Maryland Department of the Environment on Tuesday proposed extending the Town of Boonsboro's water line by 6,000 feet to remove the affected homes and businesses from well service. The water line would be extended west on Old National Pike (Alt. U.S. 40) from Lappans Road to Mill Point Road.

The cost of the extended line is estimated at $420,000, Bucher said.

The Health Department and the MDE also have proposed extending Boonsboro's sewer line by 2,000 feet at a cost of $70,000 to $200,000, depending on the type of system.

Boonsboro Councilman Kevin Chambers said at the meeting that the town was willing to take on the additional customers but would not pay to extend the water line because those with the contaminated water are in the county, not in the town.

"We are trying to provide a service to the county residents that do have a problem," Chambers said.

The commissioners said they were reluctant to take on the project, primarily for two reasons. They said they didn't want to increase the county's sewer debt. They also said the affected county residents would become customers of Boonsboro's water and sewer service, not Washington County's.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said extending the water and sewer lines would force all residents to use and pay for that service, even if they don't want to.

"I sympathize with the ones who have a problem, but I've gotten my calls from the ones who don't have a problem," Snook said.

The county agreed to apply to the state for funding, but they made no guarantees the lines would be extended.

"If the money's not there from the state ... then I ain't going close to it," Snook said.

Some water customers have said they were not aware of the Health Department's concerns and said their water is fine.

"It's all news to me. What are they trying to do, put us on public water?" asked Gary Haas, owner of Boonsboro Pharmacy. "To me, it just sounds like a way to extend the water line."

Haas said he would like to have testing done by an impartial source before he is convinced there are problems with the drinking water.

"I have a number of employees," he said. "I haven't known them to get sick from the water."

Sharon Wade, wife of the Rev. Ed Wade of Victory Baptist Church, said water there and at the church's school, Faith Christian Academy, is tested on a regular basis. She said the water receives ultraviolet treatment to protect it from contamination.

"It's fine. I haven't died yet," she said. "I drink the water and nobody has ever complained."

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