Sun settles claim on chemical law

February 24, 1993|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

The Baltimore Sun gave the city $25,000 yesterday to settle an environmental group's claim that the newspaper broke a federal law by failing to report its storage of dangerous chemicals.

The check, handed to Baltimore Fire Chief Herman Williams, is earmarked for the city's cash-strapped emergency planning for dealing with chemical leaks or fires.

Environmental Action Foundation of Takoma Park, which had threatened to sue The Sun last year, said the settlement was the first of several it hopes to negotiate.

The advocacy group is pursuing claims against three other firms: Baltimore Galvanizing Co., Baltimore Spice Inc. and Dryden Oil Co. Inc.

Environmental Action contends the four companies violated the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. The 1986 law requires industries to report annually to state and local authorities on dangerous chemicals they use or manufacture. It was inspired by the 1984 chemical leak in Bhopal, India, that killed 3,300 people.

The Sun had made annual reports from 1987 through 1989 detailing its storage of gasoline, diesel fuel and printing inks. But the company failed to report for 1990 and 1991 on what was kept at the paper's offices at 501 N. Calvert St. and at a South Baltimore printing plant.

Michael Shultz, a Sun spokesman, said the reporting lapse was "an oversight" caused by "a change in personnel." The missing reports have since been filed, he said.

"The law is the law," said Chief Williams. "The community does have the right to know what chemicals are being stored." The information is crucial for fire departments, he added, because firefighters could be endangered when responding to industrial fires.

The Sun stores up to 10,000 gallons of gasoline in an underground tank and 30,000 gallons of ink in indoor tanks downtown, Mr. Shultz said. The paper stores another 20,000 gallons of gasoline, 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 30,000 gallons of ink at Sun Park.

Besides representing a fire hazard, gasoline and diesel fuel contain benzene and toluene, which can cause cancer. The inks contain oils that may be considered hazardous, Mr. Shultz said.

This is the second environmental violation The Sun has acknowledged in the past year. The company paid $250 to the city for failing to get a permit to discharge industrial waste water from the Sun Park plant into the sewer, said Dan Souders, the company's environmental manager.

A consent decree outlining the terms of The Sun's settlement is to be filed in U.S. District Court.

Penalties for violating federal environmental laws normally go to the federal treasury, but the law also allows for payments to environmentally beneficial activities, said David Monsma, Environmental Action's attorney.

Baltimore Galvanizing has not filed any reports on its storage of hazardous chemicals at 7110 Quad Ave., said Mr. Monsma. Baltimore Spice failed to report its storage of ethylene oxide, a carcinogen, at its plant at 9740 Reisterstown Road in Garrison, he said, and Dryden Oil, at 9300 Pulaski Highway, did not report ethylene glycol, another hazardous chemical.

Henry E. Schwartz, a lawyer for Baltimore Galvanizing, said: "If there are any filings they've missed, they absolutely will file them shortly."

Jack Bell, an official with Baltimore Spice, said the firm failed for three years to report that it stores 60 pounds of ethylene oxide, which is used to kill bacteria in spices. The reports have now been filed, and a settlement is under discussion.

Calls to Dryden Oil for comment were not returned.

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