Businesses responsible for hazardous material spills could face higher costs and less control during clean-up because of a law the County Council has passed.
But the measure, characterized as a law that will improve safety, is getting a favorable review by members of Harford's business community.
"It's long overdue," said Katrina A. Pratt, safety manager at American Cyanamid Co., a chemical company in Havre de Grace.
The bill underwent almost two hours of debate during a public hearing Tuesday before the seven-member council unanimously passed the measure.
Council President Jeffrey Wilson and Councilwoman Barbara A. Risacher, D-District A, sponsored the bill.
The legislation is safety-oriented, said Risacher, a member of the Local Emergency Planning Committee, which advises the county on safety issues.
The measure is aimed at improving the capabilities of Harford's emergency response personnel to handle hazardous-materials incidents.
The gist of the bill is threefold:
It gives the county's Hazardous Materials Response Team the right to enter property where it is believed a spill has occurred.
The idea is to save valuable response time that might otherwise be spent seeking authorization to enter someone's property.
"If there is a problem and it can be handled on the spot by the (hazardous materials) team, I see nothing wrong with that," said George Biles, assistant plant supervisor at National Ammonia Co. in Havre de Grace.
The bill makes the property owners liable for any costs that are incurred by the county's response personnel during the clean-up operation.
Those costs could include use of materials and equipment.
State and federal officials already pass such clean-up costs on to property owners, and the hazardous materials law simply brings Harford government into line, Risacher said.
"(The hazardous materials team) responds to a number of incidents each month, and the cost can add up," she said.
The law puts the onus of paying for clean-up in the appropriate place, said Pratt of American Cyanamid, a manufacturer of adhesives used in commercial aircraft.
"We feel that citizens of Harford County shouldn't have to pay for the negligence of business owners," she said. "I don't think it's a hardship at all. It's a service, and the user should have to pay for services."
Yet Biles, of National Ammonia, expressed concern that a company might have to end up paying an excessive bill if response workers were to go overboard with a clean-up effort.
"My initial reaction is that I would have no problem with it as long as they didn't overreact," he said.
The measure formalizes the procedure by which hazardous materials spills are to be reported to county officials. Spills that exceed standardized limits must be reported, whether or not the response team is called upon. Spills can be reported by calling 911, Risacher said.
The law mandates a fine of $1,000 for property owners who fail to report spills.
The new measure doesn't apply solely to businesses.
All property owners, including homeowners, also are subject to the law.
However, many businesses keep on hand a variety of chemicals and materials designated as hazardous and so are more likely to be feel the effects of the legislation.