Closed-door Clean-up

August 05, 1994

Like so many corporations that want to maintain pristine images, Black & Decker Inc. would prefer to clean up environmental contamination at its Hampstead plant quietly and without public scrutiny. Just because a closed clean-up may be in the company's interest doesn't necessarily mean it's in the public interest.

As The Sun's Joe Mathews reported, Black & Decker's attorneys went to great lengths to keep the public out of the clean-up process even though the pollution affects ground water that flows beyond the plant and the clean-up calls for large amounts of treated water to be discharged into a county stream. Moreover, the chemicals involved are potential carcinogens and could pose a significant health risk.

The large power tool and small appliance manufacturing company has waged a successful two-year battle to keep from being added to the Environmental Protection Agency's list of trouble locations in need of decontamination. Even though the Hampstead plant was slated to be added to the EPA's 150 worst sites, Black & Decker avoided the list by joining a pilot program that calls for Maryland state environment officials to supervise the company's decontamination process.

State officials have also resisted the company's efforts to restrict information on the clean-up. When a permit -- to Black & Decker to discharge treated water into Deep Creek Run -- came up for renewal, the company's lawyers vigorously opposed holding a public hearing.

Considering the magnitude of the clean-up, the state officials made the right decision. Black & Decker proposes to pump 432,000 gallons of contaminated ground water out of these wells. The water will be stored in a holding pond, treated and then discharged into Deep Creek Run.

Hampstead residents have an interest in knowing the type and amount of monitoring that will be done on the massive amounts of discharged water. They also have a right to know what impact this pumping will have on their water supply and the sub-surface geological structures and what will be done if problems arise.

Trying to keep the public out of this process leaves the impression that Black & Decker is trying to hide something. If the decontamination process works as planned, the company should be more than willing to share information with the public.

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