Trying to 'dump' responsibility

March 17, 1993

Baltimore County officials are upset about what's happening at the Parkton landfill. They should be. Maryland environmental officials say local ground water is contaminated, in part because rTC of the 217-acre dump in the north county, while the federal Environmental Protection Agency determined last year that the ground water near the landfill poses an "increased cancer risk."

Sadly, though, county officials aren't upset over the potential health hazard to county citizens. No, they're in a tizzy these days because they're afraid they could be stuck with the massive bill to clean up the landfill.

The EPA asked for -- and is now supervising -- a new series of water tests by the state. If the contamination is deemed serious, the landfill could become eligible for clean-up under the EPA's Superfund program. County officials, who have hired a private lawyer to trace the EPA's steps in this case, fear the job could cost up to $30 million.

County Council Chairman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger justified hiring the lawyer by stating, "I don't have all the confidence in the world in the way the federal government does its business."

How, then, does Mr. Ruppersberger explain his letter of last April 8 to the EPA director requesting "your assistance in having the [EPA] become actively involved in review of the data on Parkton Landfill"?

And how does the county explain its dismissal of the charges of water contamination when it has trucked in water to its own paramedics in Parkton for drinking and washing?

By no means is $30 million a small piece of change. The nervousness of county officials isn't hard to understand. Yet the county is clearly responsible for making a mess of the Parkton landfill, including a decade ago when it installed a leachate pond instead of tanks, in violation of the state permit for the facility.

It's time the county owned up to its responsibility, just as the state and the EPA have concluded that wells in Parkton are contaminated. Instead of resorting to legalistic stonewalling, the county should be working on ways to pay for a clean-up. For example, bonds could be floated to pay the cost over many years. Federal and state sources could be tapped to help with the financing.

County Executive Roger Hayden routinely claims that the well-being of the citizenry is among his four top priorities. Here's his chance to back up that claim.

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