Firm's sludge threatens drinking water, suit says

May 24, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

A citizens group has filed a federal lawsuit to block a company from disposing sludge at its Whiteford property, contending that contaminants in the material risk polluting drinking wells.

The group, called the Mason-Dixon Safe Water Awareness Team, is asking for $5.3 million in damages from Whiteford Construction Co. in its suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on May 13.

The 16-page, 617-count suit calls for the company to develop a plan to correct contamination at the site. The citizens also want federal and state agencies to increase their monitoring of the site.

Farrell D. Whiteford, a company executive named as a co-defendant in the suit, could not be reached for comment.

Herbert H. Martello, a spokesman for the citizens group, said residents decided to file the suit after the company and the state Department of the Environment appeared unresponsive to their concerns.

"We're the only ones who can protect the environment," said Martello, who lives about a mile from the sludge operations.

"We can't depend on the state. We can't depend on the operator."

The citizens group, which formed last fall, has about 90 members from Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The group is represented in the suit by lawyer William Kitchin of Pylesville.

The citizens contend that the court should issue an injunction because Whiteford Construction does not have a federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act permit to handle hazardous waste materials.

Since 1990, Whiteford Construction has processed about 6.8 million gallons of material, called alum sludge, at a 10-acre site off the 1600 block of Dooley Road.

The company is seeking a state permit to expand the area of its sludge operations by 32 acres.

Alum sludge is produced in the process of treating water drawn from rivers so it is safe for consumption, the suit says. The process involves adding aluminum sulfate to water to remove impurities, heavy metals and bacteria.

Continued from Page 6Once the process is complete, drinkable water is separated from the sludge.

Whiteford Construction has received sludge from four water treatment plants, including two at Aberdeen Proving Ground and two in Pennsylvania, the suit says.

The sludge is brought to the Whiteford facility where it is stored in pits until water in the material evaporates, the suit says.

Once the sludge has dried, it is placed in piles at the facility.

Whiteford Construction's operations, the citizens argue, pose an imminent and substantial endangerment" to residents who have private drinking wells within a 10-mile radius of the facility.

The group contends that the storage areas are uncovered and unlined, allowing hazardous materials in the sludge to reach fTC ground-water supplies.

"The toxic and harmful contaminants in the sludge are in all probability already seeping into the ground water, which residents of the surrounding region use as their drinking water," the suit says.

An analysis by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in December 1991 found "toxic levels" of lead and chromium in the sludge, the suit says.

Seven tests by the A&L Eastern Agricultural Laboratories Inc., of Richmond, Va., in the last two years also showed aluminum and arsenic in the sludge, the suit says.

The suit notes that medical research has linked aluminum to numerous ailments, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and Lou Gehrig's disease.

The suit does not say at what levels the aluminum and other chemicals were measured in the tests.

The suit includes 530 counts against Whiteford Construction for storing and disposing hazardous wastes without a permit -- one for each day between November 1990 and the day the suit was filed.

The citizens also contend that the company violated the Resource Conservation Recovery Act by failing to maintain records and label materials transported to its facility.

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