State testing land for fluoride before Eastalco donates it

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State testing land for fluoride before Eastalco donates it

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First Posted: 02 Mar 2006 07:35 am

State testing land for fluoride before Eastalco donates it

By Pamela Rigaux

ADAMSTOWN — The 27 acres Alcoa Eastalco Works is donating to the Adamstown community for a park east of Carroll Manor Elementary is being monitored for fluoride as part of a consent order established between the state and the aluminum smelter in 1992, a state official said.

"It's a superfund site," said Julie Oberg, communications director of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Land designated as a superfund site has controlled hazardous substances on it. Fluoride has been found to be harmful to children's tooth formation, animal hooves and vegetation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ms. Oberg confirmed all 2,200 acres of the aluminum smelter's land must comply with the consent order.

Because of that, Eastalco has delayed turning the land over to the community. Officials with the company are conducting an environmental analysis to ensure it is safe for public use, she said.

Earl Robbins Jr., Eastalco's manager of public strategy, said the state has set up monitors on various parts of the company's land because fluoride is a by-product of aluminum. But the environmental study of the land near the elementary school is being conducted as a matter of precaution, not out of concern, he said.

Members of Carroll Manor Volunteer Coalition, formed this year — in part, to accept Eastalco's donation of 27 acres on Adamstown Road — had mixed reactions when they found out the land was being monitored.

Carroll Manor Elementary PTA president Suzanne Fioravanti, a member of the coalition, said she was unaware the site was under any regulations.

"We were all unaware," said member Jodye Roebuck. "We look forward to verifying or learning more about it."

Federal superfund sites were formed in the 1980s to give the EPA a way to assess and clean up sites with dangerous chemicals, said Robyn Gilden, the outreach program manager for Technical Outreach Services for Communities.

Technical Outreach Services for Communities is a university-based outreach program that provides free technical assistance to communities affected by hazardous substances.

A consent order is established when contaminants are found on the land, and the company accepts responsibility for cleaning it up, Ms. Gilden said.

"Consent orders are part of the normal process cleanup sites go through," she said.

Sophisticated pollution controls have only existed since the 1970s, she said. Prior to that, companies disposed of chemicals differently.

Eastalco was founded in late 1969, when the best technology at the time was substandard, Frederick scientist Ike Loukos said.

Eastalco hired Mr. Loukos in the early '70s to invent pollution-control devices because hydrogen fluoride, which the plant emitted in the production of aluminum, had a harmful effect on vegetation and cows, Mr. Loukos said.

"Certain trees are extremely sensitive and would die in a year. Others were much more resilient," Mr. Loukos said.

People were not harmed, but farmers, such as Pat Zimmerman, who lives a few farms away from Eastalco's main entrance on Manor Woods Road, believes fluoride did have harmful effects, he said.

"I'm sitting right here now suffering from it," she said Wednesday. "It's caused troubles to my bones."

According to the EPA's Web site, children can get mottled teeth when a mother takes in high levels of fluoride during pregnancy.

"But the bones of older people can be affected too," Ms. Zimmerman said.

Mr. Loukos said fluoride would drop from the air onto vegetation. When the cows ate plants contaminated with it, some of them got sick; dogs and animals that don't graze were not affected.

He believes the dry scrubbers, or pollution-control devices he completed in 1975, contained and cleaned 95 percent of the fluoride.

Ms. Zimmerman said her trees gradually stopped showing discoloration and, in the past three or four years, the quality of the air has improved dramatically.

But she wondered what the next step will be.

"I would like to know what's going to happen down there," she said, in reference to Eastalco's land. "I would hope the public would be kept advised of it," she said.

For members of coalition, the next step is to wait.

At a meeting in the Carroll Manor Fire Co.'s community center Tuesday, they learned Eastalco had to conduct what the company called a Phase I study to ensure the land is safe for public use prior to donating it.

Members expected they won't be able to use the land until fall, at the earliest, while they wait for the study to be completed.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, coalition member Bob Cramer said he was sure the property is clean. His farm borders Eastalco's property, and he used to have a monitor on it but hasn't had one for years, he said. He sends the samples to a lab in New York named Environmental Strategies Inc.

Two and a half years ago, the state hired him to test farms in the area for fluoride, including samples of silage and hay. He said he never found anything in the samples above normal ranges.

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