Army proposal to hook some Frederick, Md. residents to city water met with mixed emotions
The Frederick News-Post, Md.
FREDERICK, Md. — For some resident along Kemp Lane, an Army proposal to hook their homes to city water may be what one called “a necessary evil.”
Dorothy and Debbie Blank are among five Kemp Lane residents that rely on wells. Fort Detrick has supplied each with bottled water since about early 2006 as the Army studies groundwater under an Area B Superfund site to try and determine how far contaminants dumped on post decades ago have spread.
After years of bottle delivery and drop off — and using a cooler placed in their dining room for water to drink, cook and wash dishes with — Army officials in late August met with some residents with news that they may be able to hook them up to city water by the spring at no initial cost. The residents would be on the hook for paying their water bill after the hook up.
“I don’t like the taste of city water, but you know what, can’t have cake and eat it, too,” Debbie Blank said.
Groundwater samples taken from in and around a dumping ground on the site have tested positive for TCE and PCE — chemicals common in cleaning solvents — and chloroform in previous years. Elevated levels have also been found in some samples in and around Carroll Creek as far as Baker Park. An Army contractor has continued to test the water as it works toward a remediation plan.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prohibits TCE and PCE at levels higher than five parts per billion in drinking water. The Army says the public is not currently consuming the water.
It costs the Army about $3,000 a year to supply the five homes with bottled water, Detrick spokesman Nicholas Minecci said in an email. Under the Army’s proposed plan, it would spend about $12,000 per home to hook each resident to city water and to permanently cap their wells. A homeowner may choose to forgo the city water hookup, but at that point, the owner will no longer receive bottled water, Minecci said.
A one-time spike in a contaminant led the Army to begin providing the bottled water to the five Kemp Lane residents. The level was below drinking water standards, Fort Detrick Restoration Program Manager Joe Gortva has said. The Army has continued to test the wells quarterly.
Debbie Blank said there have been no detections in her family’s well since about 2009.
“Until they found out and started testing it, it was probably really contaminated when nobody knew,” Debbie Blank said of the well water that she grew up drinking in the home that her mother, Dorothy, and her father bought in 1959 across the fence from Area B. “The damage would have already been done.”
Dorothy Blank said she and her husband both worked at Detrick. She has had breast cancer and chronic lymphocytic leukemia and is one of many local residents who says she questions whether or not the post could be to blame for her illnesses. The nonprofit Kristen Renee Foundation, named for a woman who died of brain cancer after living near the post, has said the post is to blame for a cluster of cancers in people who have lived near Fort Detrick. The state has said that it has not identified such a cluster.
Debbie Blank said she was concerned what the added cost of a water bill would mean on an already tight budget. She called the decision to agree to go on city water “a necessary evil.”
Maria Boyce has lived on Kemp Lane for about a year, in the house that her grandmother grew up in. At 94, her grandmother has not had the health issues that other residents have blamed on Detrick, Boyce said. She remembered times when the well would go low, causing concerns about how the family would get its water. The Army would be doing the family a favor by paying for their hook up to city water.
“That would be my personal opinion,” Boyce said.
John Martenont has lived in his Kemp Lane home for 22 years. He doesn’t like the taste of city water, but the one-time hook up cost is something he said he feels he can’t refuse.
“I don’t have that kind of money,” said Martenot, a retired auto transmission mechanic.