The Pulaski incinerator, which burns city and Baltimore County trash, has been fined $50,000 by the state for air pollution violations.
The Maryland Department of the Environment has cited the Pulaski Co., a partnership headed by construction magnate Willard Hackerman, for exceeding state limits on carbon monoxide emissions at one of the incinerator's five burners.
The 35-year-old incinerator's newest burner, built three years ago, released excessive levels of the toxic gas more than half the time it was operating from July through September, according to a violation notice issued Thursday.
The state's notice was based on the most recent emissions report submitted by the company.
The incinerator's automated pollution monitors measured illegal levels of carbon monoxide on 50 days during the three-month period, the state said.
Carbon monoxide, an odorless gas formed when fuel is not burned completely, can lead to unconsciousness and death if it builds up in confined areas, such as cars or homes. Even at relatively low levels, it can increase the risk of heart attacks.
Carbon monoxide, mostly from car and truck exhaust, reaches unhealthful levels in downtown Baltimore occasionally during fall and winter.
But George P. Ferreri, MDE's air management director, said that Pulaski's emissions are not part of that problem since they tend to drift eastward away from downtown. The incinerator is at 6709 Pulaski Highway.
Max Stul Oppenheimer, the company's lawyer, said Friday that he had no comment because he had not received the state's letter. The company has 10 days to decide whether to appeal or pay the fine.
Last week's proposed penalty is just the latest problem for the aging incinerator. The company has been fined 60,000 by the state and city in the past two years for other air and water pollution violations.
To correct those problems, the incinerator installed new electrostatic precipitators on its smokestacks and recently completed installing a new system for treating its wastewater before discharging it into the city sewers.
The city is obligated to pay most of the costs of running the incinerator, including any fines or penalties, under a controversial no-bid deal struck 10 years ago, when the city sold Pulaski for $41 million to the partnership headed by Hackerman, an ally of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has criticized as unfair the terms of that deal and subsequent contracts.
In return for a guarantee to burn city garbage, the city is bound to pay for 85 percent of the incinerator's maintenance and repairs, to provide below-cost disposal of its ash at a landfill and to supply waste from Baltimore County to be burned at the facility.
A consultant hired by the city says the incinerator is outdated and inefficient, and the deal is costing taxpayers nearly $10 million a year. Hackerman disputes that figure, however, and city officials have been unable to figure out how to change or get out of the contracts, which do not expire until 1996.
More than a year ago, state environmental officials ordered Pulaski to halt "routine" violations of the emission limit on carbon monoxide by the incinerator's other four burners. The company also was cited on Nov. 23, 1990, for not maintaining its monitors, thus making it difficult to track emissions.
No fines were levied at that time. The state gave Pulaski 30 days to submit a plan for lowering its carbon monoxide emissions.
The company's lawyer responded last month -- nearly a year later -- with a proposal to spend $3.1 million to replace the defective monitors and to modify air-flow systems.
George P. Ferreri, the state's air management director, said he ,, doubts that the incinerator's carbon monoxide problems can be fixed.
George Balog, Baltimore public works director, said he was unaware of the company's proposal, and he vowed to scrutinize it closely since the cash-strapped city would have to pay for most of it.
"There's no money available to fix that plant up," Balog said Friday. "Three million dollars is a lot of money any time you look at it," he added, but especially given "the budget and times we're in."
City officials are even more worried that they may have to pay $35 million or more in the next five years for an extensive overhaul of Pulaski.
The upgrade would include installation of acid-gas pollution scrubbers that will be needed under upcoming federal standards.
Environmentalists have demanded that Pulaski be shut down because of pollution problems and the financial drain on the city.
But officials note that Hackerman has been talking about selling the incinerator. Two leading waste-management firms may be interested in upgrading or replacing Pulaski with refuse-to-energy incinerators that would emit far fewer pollutants.
Spokesmen for Wheelabrator Environmental Services, a subsidiary of Waste Management Inc., and American Ref-Fuel, a joint venture of BFI,confirmed recent talks but said no agreement has been reached.
Wheelabrator would like to replace Pulaski with a $200 million to $250 million refuse-to-energy incinerator similar to the Baltimore RESCO plant that Wheelabrator operates on Russell Street, according to George T. Hudnet Jr., regional vice president.
Though the consultant's study says the city will no longer need to burn trash at Pulaski once its recycling program kicks in, Balog says the city will support replacing the aging incinerator with a new one if it frees the city of its costly contracts.
Hackerman, however, reportedly also is considering keeping the incinerator and seeking new partners to help upgrade it. In that case, the city may still be obligated.