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"A Civil Action" -- An Everyday Drama at the EPA for Md.

Release Date: 1/20/1999
Contact Information: Ruth Podems, (215) 814-5540

Disney’s new film, "A Civil Action", playing at theatres nationwide, may leave moviegoers wondering what the EPA is doing to protect drinking water near their homes.  

"A Civil Action" dramatizes the lengthy and complex lawsuit surrounding the contamination of drinking water wells in Woburn, Massachusetts and the subsequent illnesses, including eight childhood leukemia deaths, among the families living there.

Problems like Woburn were the reason Congress created the Superfund in 1980, and gave the EPA authority to address health risks from improper disposal of hazardous waste.

In 1990, the EPA negotiated a landmark $69.45 million settlement for the cleanup of municipal wells G and H, the sources of the contaminated drinking water in Woburn.  

According to the settlement, the parties responsible for the cleanup -- W.R. Grace & Co., UniFirst Corp., New England Plastics, Beatrice Co., Wildwood Conservation Corp. And John J. Riley, Jr. -- must decontaminate their properties, finance EPA’s oversight, perform a study of the area surrounding wells G and H, and reimburse the EPA for past site investigation costs.

The conflicts and challenges played out in the movie are part of everyday life at the agency charged with protecting America’s environment and public health, including drinking water.  

The EPA approaches the problem of potential drinking water contamination from many angles, including the cleanup of Superfund hazardous waste sites, such as Woburn; the protection of groundwater from leaking underground petroleum storage tanks; and a new regulation that says water suppliers must provide annual reports to customers on the quality of each community’s public water supply.

As of the end of 1998, the EPA’s mid-Atlantic regional office provided drinking water to nearby residents at 80 Superfund sites where contaminated water was not potable.  (Site attached list.)

Nationwide, drinking water wells have been shut down at about 360 Superfund sites and alternative water sources were supplied.  At another 500 sites, wells located nearby are at risk, but still unaffected by contamination plumes moving through the groundwater.

For example, at the Limestone Road site in Cumberland, Allegany County, commercial demolition debris and waste sludges were dumped continuously from 1960 through 1980, contaminating the nearby surface water with chromium, cadmium and zinc.  Neighborhood residential wells were found to contain traces of manganese and nickel.

The EPA immediately ordered the responsible parties, Fairchild Industries and Cumberland Cement and Supply to regularly test residential wells and provide bottled water to residents whose water was not safe to drink.  As a permanent solution, the EPA called for the installation of a public water line to the residential area affected by the site. Construction of the line began last spring and should be completed this spring.

Another source of widespread groundwater contamination is leaking underground petroleum storage tanks.  Just a few drops of gasoline in an underground aquifer can taint a whole community’s water supply.

An EPA rule gave tank owners 10 years to put safeguards onto their tanks to prevent leaks and spills.  The 10-year deadline was up last month, and inspectors will start combing the area for tanks that are not up to snuff.  If a tank owner was not willing to upgrade his tanks or install new ones, he had to shut the tanks down or remove them from the ground.

Another new EPA rule goes into effect this spring, requiring public water suppliers to include with their bills an annual water quality summary, known as a Consumer Confidence Report.  This report, ordered by President Clinton, must divulge the source of the drinking water, any contaminants that may be found in the water and their potential health effects.

If you suspect that a property and/or the groundwater in your community is contaminated, you may call the Region III (Pa., De., Md., Va., W.Va., and D.C.) Emergency Response Center to report it at (215) 814-3254.  For states outside Region III, call the National Emergency Response Center at (800) 424-8802.



A Civil Action - 1/20
Superfund Sites in EPA Region III
Where Potable Water Was Supplied


LIMESTONE ROAD - Allegany County, Cumberland
SPECTRON - Cecil County, Elkton
WOODLAWN - Cecil County, Woodlawn
TRANS TECH/ADMSTWN SITE - Frederick County, Adamstown


AIW FRANK - Chester County, Exton
BENDIX FLIGHT SYSTEMS - Susquehanna County, Bridgewater Township
BERKS SAND PIT - Berks County, 15 miles NE of Reading
BLOSENSKI LF - Chester County, West Caln Township
BOARDHEAD FARMS - Bucks County, Bridgeton Township
BUTZ LF - Monroe County , Township Route 601 (RD#5) in Jackson & Pocono
COMMODORE SEMICONDUCTOR - Montgomery County, Norristown
CROSSLEY FARM - Berks County, Hereford Township
CROYDON TCE - Bucks County, Bristol Township
CRYOCHEM, INC - Berks County, Worman
DORNEY ROAD LF - Lehigh and Berks Counties, 8 miles southwest of Allentown
DUBLIN TCE - Bucks County, Dublin Borough
FISCHER AND PORTER - Bucks County, Warminster
HELEVA - Lehigh County, North Whitehall Township
INDUSTRIAL LANE - Northampton County, Williams Township
KIMBERTON - Chester County, Kimberton Borough, near Philadelphia
NORTH PENN AREA 6 - Montgomery County, Lansdale
MW MANUFACTURING - Montour County, Valley Township, 2 miles north of Danville
MALVERN TCE - Chester County, Malvern
OLD CITY OF YORK - York County, Just outside Seven Valleys
OSBORNE LF - Mercer County, 1/2 mile east of Grove City
RECTICON - Chester County, Parker Ford
SALFORD QUARRY - Montgomery County On 606 Quarry Road in Lower Salford Twnship
SHRIVER’S CORNER - Adams County, Route 394 in Straban Township
STRASBURG LF - Chester County, Near Coatsville in West Bradford and Newlin Townships
WELSH LF - Chester County, On Welsh Road in Honey Brook Township
WHITMOYER - Lebanon County, 1 mile southwest of Myerstown
WILLIAM DICK LAGOONS - Chester County, West Caln Township
WESTINGHOUSE - Mercer County, Sharon
YORK COUNTY SOLID WASTE - York County, Hopewell Township
ALDERFER LANDFILL - HSCA - Montgomery County, Souderton
BOLLINGER STEEL PLANT - Beaver County, Ambridge
DOYLESTOWN GROUND WATER - Bucks County, Doylestown
DRAKE CHEMICAL - Clinton County, Lock Haven
FAIRVIEW WATER COMPANY - Monroe County, Mt. Pocono
HAVERTOWN PCP - Delaware County, Haverford Twp
LEHMAN MTBE SITE - Luzerne County, Lehman Twp
NORTH PENN AREA 11 - Chester County, Creamery
NORTH PENN AREA 8 - Chester County, Skippack Twp
OLD WILMINGTON RD SITE - Chester County, Sodsburyville
PERRY PHILLIPS LF - Chester County, Phillipsville
RIDGE RD SITE - York County, Etters
ROYAL DRY CLEANERS - Montgomery County, Lansdale
STARBRICK AREA - Warren County, Conewango Twp
SUNSET GOLF COURSE - Dauphin County, Middletown
VALMONT INDUSTRIAL PARK - HSCA - Luzerne County, Hazleton
VILLAGE OF REEDERS GW - Monroe County, Jackson Townshiop


ARMY CREEK - New Castle County, 2 miles southwest of City of New Castle
CHEM-SOLV, INC - Kent County, Cheswold
DELAWARE SAND AND GRAVEL - New Castle County, 2 miles SW of New Castle
DUPONT - New Castle County, Along the Christina River in Newport
HALBY - New Castle County, Wilmington
NEW CASTLE SPILL - New Castle County, New Castle
SUSSEX - Sussex County, Laurel
TYBOUTS - New Castle County, 10 miles south of Wilmington
WILDCAT - Kent County, 2 1/2 miles south of Dover, adjacent to the St. Jones River
DOVER AIRFORCE BASE - Kent County, Dover
HARVEY & KNOTT DRUM, INC - New Castle County, Kirkwood


AVTEX - Warren County, Front Royal
CHISMAN CREEK - York County, Suburban York County
MATTHEWS ELECTRIC PLATING - Roanoke County, 2 miles west of Salem
RENTOKIL, INC - Henrico County, Northwest of Richmond near I-95
A Civil Action - Attachment
Page Three

EVRDURE INC - Orange County, Rapidan
GEENWOOD CHEMICAL - Albermarle County, Greenwood
HARRY BRANCH LEAD SITE - Buchanan County, Whitewood

West Virginia

BITTLE PROPERTY - Berkely County, Charlestown
VIENNA TCE - Wood County, Vienna