Officials of a ceramics manufacturing company offered yesterday to solve the problem of contaminated well water in the Maryland town of Adamstown by paying $250,000 to install a public drinking water system.
"This offer is not a concession of responsibility or liability," lawyers for the firm, Trans-Tech, said in a letter sent to state, federal and Frederick County officials yesterday. "Rather, this offer is made in the spirit of public citizenship and corporate good-neighborliness."
The ground water in the area has been contaminated by about 10 chemicals that seeped underground from a nearby, decades-old industrial site that since 1981 has housed Trans-Tech.
Trans-Tech officials have been meeting for months with state, county and federal Environmental Protection Agency officials trying to reach an agreement on who will pay for additional tests to determine the cause of the pollution and the necessary cleanup.
Yesterday's letter said Trans-Tech would pay for the drinking system only if it were relieved of all further liability, including any costs for testing or cleaning up the ground water.
The EPA last month installed filters in 15 homes to remove the chemicals from the drinking supplies.
Trans-Tech general manager Dale Kline said at an afternoon news conference in downtown Washington that the company is not responsible for the well water contamination that is vexing about 30 Adamstown homes, half the town.
"Some people have jumped to the conclusion we are responsible and we do not think it's fair," Kline said.
Pete Eckel, administrative assistant for Frederick County, said the cost of building a public water system is about $95,000 more than Trans-Tech's offer.
The county estimates it will cost about $345,000 to upgrade an existing water treatment plant and tap into a nearby pipeline that brings water from the Potomac River into the area.
"Their offer doesn't meet all the costs we're looking at, and our response will be influenced by that," Eckel said.
The offer also does not cover the $800 to $1,000 each homeowner must spend to connect to the water line, Eckel added.
Art Caple, a project manager for the Maryland Waste Water Management Administration, said the offer does not address who will be responsible for paying the cost of cleaning up the ground water. "That's a question we will have to deal with," he said.
The well water contamination was discovered about a year ago after the doctor of an adult patient suffering from stomach problems asked Trans-Tech to test the ground water, a state official said.
Tests revealed the presence of about 10 chemicals in the water, two of them used by Trans-Tech.
Caple said that although Trans-Tech has not been "identified as the company responsible" for the contamination, the company has "been brought into question because they handle the chemicals found in the ground water."
Kline said the company no longer employs one of the chemicals found in the ground water and is trying to phase out the other contaminant.
The county, state and EPA will meet soon to discuss Trans-Tech's offer, Caple said.
"We hope it's accepted as soon as possible so we can go back to our daily business and stop answering calls from the press," Kline said.