Chrome beneath Dundalk terminal seeps into Patapsco

October 11, 1990|By Phillip Davis

State officials, already bedeviled by the toxic chrome leaking into Baltimore's Inner Harbor from the former Allied-Signal plant, have discovered that small amounts of chrome ore tailings buried under the Dundalk Marine Terminal are seeping into the Patapsco River.

Environment Secretary Martin W. Walsh Jr. and Transportation Secretary Richard H. Trainor, who is chairman of the Maryland Port Commission, met this week to discuss the findings of a recently completed site inspection by E. A. Engineering Science and Technology Inc. of Hunt Valley, port and environment officials said yesterday.

The very ground on which the marine terminal was built is contaminated with chrome, they say. Inspection has revealed a daily average of nearly 4 pounds of chrome ore tailings being discharged into the mouth of the river, said Isaac Shafran of the Maryland Port Administration.

doesn't seem like much, but any amount is of concern," said Mr. Shafran, the port's development director.

Scientists say the primary danger is that the chrome, a toxic metal and carcinogen, can interact with other chemicals to foul waters and kill aquatic plant life.

On Tuesday, state employees sent a remote control television camera 700 feet down a sewer pipe underneath 14th Street at the terminal, said Richard F. Pecora, assistant environment secretary. The camera confirmed that there are a number of cracks in the pipe.

"It looks as though the pipe failure is allowing ground water mixed with the chrome material to get into the pipes," he said.

The amount of chrome seeping into the river is not constant but intermittent, depending on rainfall, tides and other weather factors, Mr. Pecora said.

Environment and port officials said the state was scrambling to fix the problem as soon as possible.

Patching cracks in the pipes could be completed in as little as two weeks, Mr. Pecora said. The port has contracted with Maryland Environmental Services Inc. to find a longer-term solution to the problem, he said.

Most of the Dundalk Marine Terminal -- the largest cargo-handling terminal in the port of Baltimore -- is built on a landfill. During the 1970s, the discarded chrome ore tailings from the old Allied-Signal plant were considered a good landfill material, and thousands of tons lie below the terminal today.

In 1987, when the terminal was undergoing a number of construction and repair projects, the state contracted to cart away more than 500 tons of chrome from the site. But more and more chrome was found, and eventually more than 3,200 tons of the material was trucked at a cost of $519,000 to a hazardous waste landfill in Ohio.

The chemical company has promised to spend $61 million to clean up the 20-acre Baltimore Chrome Works site, closed in 1985.

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