Alford printing plant fined for pollution BALTIMORE CITY

August 11, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

A Southeast Baltimore printing company whose officials knowingly allowed chemical fumes to pollute the air was fined $100,000 after pleading guilty to criminal charges yesterday, the state attorney general's office said.

The agency said the fine was the largest levied for a criminal violation of the state's air pollution laws.

Alford Industries Inc., a New Jersey-based corporation that operates a rotogravure printing plant on Merchant Street near Russell Street, pleaded guilty to four charges of violating a 1991 law that established criminal penalties for disobeying a company's air pollution control permit.

In announcing the fine -- $25,000 per count -- Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said the company was prosecuted because its air pollution controls were "a sham."

On four days in 1992, the company knowingly released "volatile organic compounds," which release fumes that react with oxygen and sunlight to help create smog, said Bernard A. Penner, an assistant attorney general with the agency's Environmental Crimes Unit. Mr. Penner said the company did not burn off the compounds in a 1,400-degree "oxidizer" as required under its permit.

In a statement of facts presented during a hearing yesterday before Baltimore Circuit Judge Paul Smith, Mr. Penner said the violations were discovered last October, after authorities obtained a July 17, 1992, internal company memo.

In the memo, Mr. Penner said, Alford's safety and environment manager told the plant manager that the company was fortunate that inspectors had not noticed that some of the ducts in the oxidizer had been left open. Mr. Penner said the open ducts allowed the compounds to be released directly into the air.

"This was a knowing violation," Mr. Penner said after the hearing. "This company knew that their equipment wasn't working. The criminal statute states the violation has to be a knowing violation."

Tom M. Lingan, a lawyer representing the company, said the equipment was malfunctioning.

He said the oxidizers were running even when the ducts were open, adding, "Why would you operate it unless you were sending something through it?"

Under the terms of the plea agreement, the company agreed to pay the fine within a two-year period to the Maryland Clean Air Fund, which pays for the regulation of air pollution in the state.

In return, the Attorney General's Office agreed not to seek criminal charges against officers or employees of the company.

The attorney general's office said the company has corrected the problem and is being monitored by the state Department of the Environment. The company also faces administrative fines from the DOE of up to $50,000, said Michael Sullivan, department spokesman.

Jess C. Ball, identified in court records as the corporation's president, would not comment yesterday on the case.

The Baltimore area has the sixth worst smog problem among U.S. metropolitan areas.

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