"One very small first step" for neighboring property owners, a giant step for the EPA.
That was the reaction at a public hearing Thursday on the Environmental Protection Agency and Maryland Department of Environment's draft proposals to clean the Browning-Ferris Industries/Solley Road hazardous waste landfill in Pasadena.
The proposals, which calls for airstripping the contaminants, were welcomed by most of the community activists and politicians, who had some minor suggestions for the regulatory agencies. But the lawyer for two adjacent commercial property owners, who are suing BFI for $207 million, used the occasion to rail against the agencies for dragging their feet and understating the environmental impact of carcinogens seeping under their client's property.
"These are standard requirements and closure procedures that could have been implemented in 1984 and 1985. It shouldn't have taken years of study to come up with this," complained Warren Rich, the lawyer for Blumenthal Power Company and Marley Neck Properties.
"What I'm trying to say is: To this day, neither the officials up here nor I know the extent of the plume of contaminants, and the EPA now has obliquely tied themselves to an agreement (with BFI) that does very little to get to the bottom of it.
"Any movement is a step in the right direction, but this is a very small first step," he said.
While no one knows how far the underground plume of the carcinogen Trichloroethene extends, EPA representative Diane Schott explained, agency officials are satisfied that it doesn't threaten any drinking water supplies. If the plume has gone farther than expected the plan can be adjusted, she said.
Other factions were far less critical of the plan, hailing it as a long-awaited blanket proposal.
"We support the state and EPA's efforts," said Mary Rosso, president of the Maryland Waste Coalition, a statewide environmental lobby that formed during the fight to close down the Solley Road dump.
Rosso's support of the plan was tempered, however, as she wondered if the $15,000-per-year demanded of BFI to pay for the state and federal oversight of the clean-up was adequate.
"My concern is, 'Is the cost high enough to pay for (the EPA and MDE) to see this through?' BFI can certainly afford more and we shouldn't be short-changed -- we taxpayers," Rosso said.
Rosso also asked for the state to ensure that BFI do something about the landfill's "slip shod" security system.
Other speakers, including Delegate W. Ray Huff, D-Pasadena, testified that he sees motorcyclists and other all-terrain vehicles cruise across the hazardous dump every day, which could damage the clay "cap" and allow hazardous wastes to leak.
"A lot of people are getting in there still. I'd like to see that addressed," Huff said.
Rosso asked that the agencies write a letter imploring the county police to enforce the No Trespassing signs, saying the scars on the landfill cover could pose a serious health hazard to both the community and the trespasser.
The Solley Road landfill was operated as a municipal and hazardous waste dump from 1962 to 1982, first by the Johnson and Speake Co. and then Browning-Ferris Industries.
It wasn't until October 1984 that the MDE first discovered carcinogens -- mostly Trichloroethene -- seeping into ground water in concentrations up to 170 times the EPA limit.
Since BFI was the last owner of the facility, it was deemed legally responsible for the entire clean-up -- even though the leaking areas of the landfill were only used by Johnson and Speake.
The cleanup plan calls for the vacuum pumping of 100,000 gallons a day out of the center of the contaminated area and airstripping it before it evaporates when released to the air.
To further complicate matters, the EPA and MDE are responsible for overseeing different aspects of the clean-up. The actual elimination of hazardous wastes from the sight is not expected to begin until late 1991.