About 600 catcalling, sign-waving residents of Rosedale in eastern Baltimore County packed the Eastern Vo-Tech High School auditorium last night to protest plans for a plant in their neighborhood that would "recycle" dirt contaminated by leaking underground fuel storage tanks.
"We're not going to take someone else's trash so they can make big bucks," declared state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, an 8th District Democrat, drawing some of the loudest cheers from the crowd.
The plant is planned by Environmental Recycling Associates, a subsidiary of Bryn Awel Corp., a Towson pavement manufacturer, which wants to put the decontaminated dirt in its asphalt. The plant would process up to 185 tons of soil an hour.
Company officials contend that their plant is a safe way of cleaning and reusing soil tainted by gasoline, diesel fuel and oil leaking from underground tanks.
With 3,300 leaky fuel tanks pulled from the ground last year in Maryland, company officials estimate there is a need to clean 12 million to 16 million tons of contaminated dirt from around Baltimore and Washington. Such dirt now is either shipped out of state for disposal or dumped in municipal landfills.
Robert Smith, a lawyer for the firm, contended that the air pollution from the plant would be no worse than that from a corner gas station.
State environmental officials, who must decide whether to permit the plant, say that if it is operated properly it should not release unsafe levels of toxic pollutants such as lead and benzene into the air.
The soil would be "cooked" in a kiln at 500 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Evaporating hydrocarbons would be burned off, leaving the soil uncontaminated.
The hydrocarbons could contribute to the region's smog, which can cause breathing problems.
State officials say they would restrict the plant's operations to 10 hours a day to limit those emissions.
Rosedale residents say they have suffered too long from the pollution of the Back River sewage plant and Pulaski Highway trash incinerator.
"If it's contaminated, it doesn't meet our requirements," shouted one heckler. "You take your facts, take your soil and go somewhere else."