The owners of the Solley Road landfill say they will yield to neighborhood pressure and not use fly ash to reseal leaking trash heaps.
"People want us to be more conventional. So we are going to be using topsoil," Jill Nelson, Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI) project manager for the closed landfill, said last week.
New plans call for a 9-inch layer of topsoil covered with an 8-inch layer of soil that has municipal sludge mixed in.
BFI originally proposed to recap the two trash hills with a sealer of clay 2 feet deep, topped with 9 inches of shredded tires for drainage, and finally an 18-inch layer of mixed sludge, fly ash and dirt to grow grass.
Some studies have indicated that fly ash is acidic and contains heavy metals. But it is not considered a hazardous substance by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
At the beginning of June, BFI's plan met with technical approval from the EPA, but prompted heated opposition from a community already embroiled in a battle with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. over the utility's nearby fly ash dump.
BFI officials say they will work with the community and may make other concessions because they want to reseal the landfill, where environmental protections are failing, as quickly as possible to halt the flow of contaminated ground water. An 8-acre section of the 65-acre landfill accepted hazardous industrial waste from 1980 until it closed in 1982.
The protective clay cap that was considered state-of-the-art 12 years ago is coming apart. Its cracks allow gas to seep out and rain to seep in, and runoff eventually leaches into ground water carrying volatile organic compounds, including cancer-causing benzene and trichloroethylene.
As part of its plan to reseal the landfill, BFI had arranged for BGE to supply fly ash from its nearby, controversial landfill if the community had no objection. But residents objected loudly.
They charged that the utility, facing an Anne Arundel County Council bill that would rein in its fly ash operation, was going behind peoples' backs to dispose of the product and accused BFI of violating community trust.
L BFI officials said they were unaware of residents' concerns.
Ms. Nelson said that BFI still believes that fly ash would make a good component for a growing medium atop the two hills of trash, but the local "political environment" precludes using the waste from coal-fired generators at BGE's Brandon Shores power plant, she concluded.
Carl L. Hackmann, an officer in the Coalition of Communities and Citizens Against Fly Ash, said, "I think it's a very good decision on their part. There are too many questions about the viability of fly ash from an environmental standpoint. There were no test cases. Why should we be guinea pigs -- again?"
Mr. Hackmann predicted that the change in BFI's proposal will go a long way toward gaining community acceptance of its plan to reseal the ailing landfill.
Some in the community would rather BFI not use sludge because of the prospect of having an unpleasant odor waft over their homes for several months this year and next.
They were horrified by BFI's original plan to mix the cover material in one place near Solley Road and carry it by truck around the landfill. Now, the company plans to mix and apply the sludge on the spot as needed to keep it farther from houses, Ms. Nelson said.
"If the area around it doesn't have an odor, that's fine. I appreciate that, I do," said Ruth Bell, vice president of the Lombardee Beach Community Association and an owner of property across Solley Road from the landfill. "As long as there is no odor problem and it's used in a safe way, and it's not an environmental problem, then I suppose it's OK."