Orange and red flames from trash burning in open pits lighted the Glen Burnie sky in the heyday of Smuck's Dump.
Twenty-five years later, county officials still see red when it comes to the private, Dover Road dump it purchased in 1970 and used as a municipal landfill until 1983 when it became full.
In 1988, the EPA nominated the 130-acre site for the national list of toxic waste dumps targeted for cleanup under the 10-year-old Superfund program.
If placed on the "National Priorities List," the cleanup could cost Anne Arundel residents millions of dollars more than if the county and state restored the site.
"We're opposed to its placement on the NPL," said Richard Waesche, chief of the county Bureau of Solid Waste. "We don't think it's necessary."
"It's a question of who's going to control any work at the site," said Assistant County Attorney Steve LeGendre, who has filed a stack of documents, 8 to 10 inches thick, appealing the NPL nomination. "We'd have no control over a federal contractor. Their basic stake would be to get the job done. Ours would be to get it done at a price that's controlled."
The EPA remains undaunted.
EPA spokeswoman Amy Barnett said the federal agency is negotiating with the state over who will supervise the cleanup.
But, Roberta Ricco, EPA site coordinator, said, "It's our intention to list that site."
When the landfill was nominated to the NPL two years ago, county officials estimated the cleanup cost at $25 million to $37 million. They said they hoped to limit the county's liability to $8 million and have the federal government pay the balance.
But, last week, LeGendre and Waesche said the county would have to foot the entire bill.
"One of the most widespread misconceptions about Superfund is that it's a grant program," Waesche said. "At most, it's a revolving loan program."
Glen Burnie residents fought to close the privately held Smuck's Dump -- notorious around the state for its wide-open dumping policy -- throughout the 1960s.
"Every night there was a bonfire that lit up the sky all over Glen Burnie," remembered Suburbia resident Lola Hand. "Thick, black smoke would form a cloud over the whole area."
The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene eventually stopped the burning and the county converted the dump into a landfill that adhered to environmental regulations.
The EPA became involved when it learned that Diamond Shamrock's Baltimore plant had dumped 100 tons of inorganic solids, including metal substances, in the late 1970s. Since the landfill closed, trichloroethylene, dichloroethylene and chromium -- substances suspected of causing cancer -- have been found in test wells drilled on the site.
The landfill lies about 3 miles from municipal wells that supply drinking water to more than 90,000 people in the county, EPA officials say.
County officials say only low-levels of contamination -- with little risk to public health -- have been found.
However, the county Department of Public Works already has spent $1 million on extensive investigations into the problem, Waesche said. Those studies should be completed by March. Then the county will begin examining its cleanup options, he said.
"Without conceding that we have any kind of health hazard and without conceding that we should be on the NPL list," LeGendre said, the county signed a 23-page agreement with the state Department of the Environment on Sept. 7, outlining the local government's responsibilities.
"At times, the county bureaucracy working with the state bureaucracy is frustrating," Waesche said. "Heaven knows what would happen if we had the county working with the state working with the federal government. We might never get anything done."