Residents of Camden, N.J., who were supplied drinking water from a contaminated well field that is now a federal Superfund site are gearing up for legal action. Attorneys sent letters to Camden officials and the Pennsauken Sanitary Landfill - suspected of being one source among many for the well pollution - naming them as targets of a projected class-action lawsuit on behalf of residents. Although no lawsuit has been filed, plaintiff's attorneys are required to notify government bodies to be named in such actions. No warning is required for private companies, dozens of which are possible sources for the hazardous pollutants detected in the early 1970s along the Delaware River.

"For a quarter-century, large portions of the city of Camden received tainted water ?with the knowledge of many agencies and entities," says Keith Walker, a former Camden mayoral candidate who has been organizing public meetings on the issue. "A lot of citizens are aghast." The letters contend that Camden and the landfill depressed property values by not acting to prevent pollutants from getting into public water, and call on them to pay for health monitoring.

In 1991, state officials accused 21 individuals and companies of dumping the pollutants that found their way into the wells. None of the parties has admitted any fault or contributed to the cost of cleaning up the site. Health officials announced plans for a study of cancer and birth-defect rates in the area of Camden served by the wells. The study has not started.

Attorneys are trying to determine which companies they should name if a lawsuit is filed. Lawyers have signed up Camden residents for the proposed class action, but he declined to give a specific number.

William Tambussi, an attorney for the landfill, says any contamination from the site that may have affected the wells happened when the land was in the hands of private industry - before it was owned by Pennsauken Township or, as it now is, by the county's Pollution Control Finance Authority. Tambussi said that the landfill had been in litigation for 10 years with these companies, and that they should be responsible for the claims Camden residents have put forth.

Roy Jones, a resident who is helping to organize support for the lawsuit, said one meeting had drawn 250 people on a rainy night. "You don't have to do a whole lot of explaining," he said. "People are gravitating to this issue."