Time Runs Out on Kanasco ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

December 11, 1992

Last week, the Maryland Department of the Environment di what it should have done long ago. It denied Kanasco Ltd., the Brooklyn Park pharmaceutical plant, a permit to operate.

Kanasco, which makes synthetic penicillin, has jeopardized the health of North County and South Baltimore residents for nearly two decades.

Its history includes countless incidents of unauthorized dumping into storm drains and public sewers, including a 1988 spill that sent 10 families to the hospital. Neighbors have suffered from nauseating odors that forced them indoors, making them virtual prisoners in their own homes.

The MDE has ordered the company to clean up many times and levied tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Yet year after year, state inspectors have recommended permit renewal.

Understandably, Kanasco neighbors wondered how bad things had to get before the state felt justified in shutting the plant. Then, in October, Kanasco was indicted on criminal charges for a 1991 chemical spill and hit with a state civil complaint.

That appears to have been the last straw for the MDE. Its letter of rejection cites 29 violations of environmental law dating to Dec. 1, 1982.

Why has it taken the state so long to act against Kanasco? Mainly because it is not politically acceptable -- nor economically wise -- for government to pull the trigger on wayward businesses too quickly. There is a danger in letting public agencies have too long an arm when it comes to meddling with the private sector. The MDE's policy, therefore, has been one of restraint, of coaxing businesses into compliance through progressively stiffer penalties.

There is nothing wrong with this. The problem is that you can only coax for so long. Then, it is time to say, "Enough is enough," and deny permit renewal.

With Kanasco, the MDE should have seen after the 1988 spills that the company was not serious about complying and did not deserve to have the state sanction its operation.

Better late than never, at least. Though Kanasco can appeal the state's decision, perhaps North County residents can breathe easier now, and perhaps the MDE will be less forgiving the next time an unrepentant polluter asks for another chance.

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