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Tainted wells may pose risks

March 30, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Of the approximately 45,000 Washington County residents using wells, about 10 to 12 are reported annually to become ill from drinking contaminated water, a county health official said Monday.

Many more cases may go unreported because people dismiss their illnesses as common stomach aches or flu symptoms, said Laurie Bucher, the Washington County Health Department's director of environmental health.

Bucher told Washington County Planning Commission members that 30 percent of the wells in the county are contaminated with some type of bacteria and 10 percent are contaminated with fecal bacteria.

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She gave the same information to the Washington County Commissioners last year.

The bacteria may cause diseases such as giardia, hepatitis A and cryptosporidium, which can cause flu-like symptoms, she said.

While healthy people probably will not become ill, those with compromised immune systems are at a greater risk.

In October 2003, Bucher asked the commissioners to approve more stringent disinfection and treatment procedures to help rid wells of bacterial contamination and keep the drinking water safe for residents. Those procedures may cost homeowners about $3,500 if approved, she said.

On Monday, Commissioner James F. Kercheval, who also is a member of the Planning Commission, said he thought the number of people with reported illnesses from contaminated well water was small.

"Somebody's got to explain these numbers better," he said. "They don't add up."

Planning Commission Chairwoman Paula Lampton and Commission member George Anikis said it's possible people may get an upset stomach and not realize that contaminated water may have been the source.

Anikis said doctors may not realize that either.

Bucher has said that places with contaminated wells include the areas of White Hall and Beaver Creek roads and in the Smithsburg, Boonsboro and Cearfoss areas.

The county Health Department and the Maryland Department of the Environment have recommended that the town of Boonsboro's water and sewer lines be extended so that homes and businesses along Old National Pike outside the town's limits don't have to use contaminated well water.

Some wells along Old National Pike from Lappans Road (Md. 68) to Mill Point Road were contaminated with fecal bacteria, Bucher has said.

Lampton said the Planning Commission will wait to hear what happens to a bill that would form a water and sewer committee in Washington County. The committee would make recommendations on water and sewer issues in the county.

The bill was introduced this year by the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

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