Shut plant's owner must clean up spill Wood preservative tainting the soil WEST COUNTY -- Crofton * Odenton * Fort Meade * Gambrills

March 09, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Even though a Harmans wood treatment plant closed two months ago, the company still must clean up a 14-year-old chemical spill on the site on Shipley Avenue, federal environmental officials have said.

"We expect them to do the work this summer," said Eric Newman, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency site manager for the spill. "The company is not bankrupt and right now they have expressed a willingness to continue with the cleanup."

But that's small comfort for Thomas A. Dixon, president of the Harmans Community Association, who said he is worried that the firm won't be able to pay for the cleanup, and taxpayers will get stuck with the bill -- estimated at $318,000.

"We really don't know what the situation is," Mr. Dixon said. "I'm still at a loss here. Who pays is my concern."

But Bernard Liedman, president of Mid-Atlantic Wood Preservers, the owner of the property, which has been designated an EPA "Superfund" site, said the company plans to pay.

"We're working on it expeditiously," he insisted yesterday.

County health department officials discovered that contamination had seeped into the ground in 1978 after Richard Morehead, a neighboring homeowner, offered them a glass of bright green water from his well.

The water was found to contain high concentrations of copper, chrome and arsenic, carcinogens used in wood preservatives.

In February 1992, the EPA ordered Fort McHenry Lumber, which owned Mid-Atlantic, to cap two acres of contaminated soil to prevent erosion and dust, to enlarge a pad to capture chemicals dripping from treated wood and to build a roof over the area where the treated wood dries.

The cost was estimated at $200,000.

Because the company has closed, Mr. Newman said, the enlarged drip pad and roof no longer are necessary. But the company still is responsible for the cap, which could cost $100,000.

Last week, a Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) report concluded that only those who are exposed to the contaminated soil for a long time -- mainly company workers -- face any cancer risk, and said that early remediation efforts "reduced these contaminants to levels that do not present an urgent public health hazard."

The report backed up EPA studies conducted over the past 14 years that found that the cancer risk is less than one in 1,000 to someone exposed to the contaminated dust for 30 years over a 70-year lifetime.

Mr. Newman said last week that a public hearing will be held this

summer before the work begins.

The MDE report also agrees that some contaminated soil got outside the company's fence through a sewer line and will have to be excavated.

Until that is done, the MDE recommends, "daily contact with surface soil from the sewer outfall adjacent to the site should be avoided."

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