Nearly a decade after hundreds of rusted, leaking drums were found in overgrown fields behind a Brooklyn Park cemetery, government agentsare cleaning up the hazardous dump.
Spurred by the discovery of alarmingly high levels of lead in the soil, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decided to remove the 55-gallon drums strewn across sections of an 86-acre site near Mount Calvary Cemetery.
The dump has been under observation since rusted barrels were found there in 1982. When soil tests last fall showed extremely high levels of lead and other heavy metals, the EPA declared the contaminatedsite an "immediate threat."
State workers have removed and sealedoff 288 deteriorated, leaking drums since the cleanup started Feb. 11, said Leanne Nurse, a spokeswoman for the EPA's regional office in Philadelphia. At least 480 drums are believed to be in the dump off Snow Hill Lane, north of the Beltway.
Most of the barrels removed so far have been empty or contained only traces of chemicals, Nurse said. The EPA plans to analyze the contents and surrounding soil for lead, arsenic, chromium and PCBs -- polychlorinated biphenyl, a cancer-causing chemical found in electric transformers. All contaminated topsoil will be removed and replaced during the cleanup.
The propertyowners, a family holding company known as DWC Trust, face up to a $2million price tag and possible penalties for failing to start the cleanup when the EPA requested immediate action in December, Nurse said.
After state environmental agents discovered extremely high levels of lead in the soil, the trust was notified to begin removing the barrels. The owners failed to respond, leading the EPA to start an emergency cleanup and initiate a lawsuit seeking damages.
Some topsoil tested last September contained over 15,000 parts per billion of lead, three times the EPA standard for immediate action, Nurse said. But water samples taken from wells of neighbors and at Cabin Branch Creek indicate the contaminants have not seeped into the ground water.
"There's no imminent health threat according to recent information compiled in the area," said Evelyn Stein, spokeswoman for the county Health Department.
County officials joined federal and state agents in walking the site and reassuring neighbors before the cleanup started, she
Since some leaking drums were found on the western edge of the dump, the owners of the adjacent Pennington Road Landfill in Baltimore also were notified. EPA agents will determine whether any of the heavy metals contaminating the site have seeped across the city line into the landfill.
The Snow Hill Lane dump is one of29 in Anne Arundel County on the state's master list of possible hazardous waste sites.
Though it qualified for emergency action when state agents found high levels of lead, the 86-acre site is not on the National Priorities List of the country's most hazardous dumps. Allproperties suspected to be the site of illegal dumping or chemical spills are ranked, with the most dangerous qualifying for long-term work under the Superfund program.
Shorter term cleanups that take less than a year come under the removal branch of the Superfund, Nurse said.
The state crew working under EPA's supervision to clean up the Snow Hill Lane dump expects to finish by the end of April. To forestall joy riders from cruising through the site on all-terrain vehicles, the site is barricaded and watched 24 hours a day by a security guard, Stein said.
"I think it's wonderful that this cleanup is happening," said County Councilman George Bachman, D-Linthicum. "The neighbors have been worried for some time."