Investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency, Maryland Department of the Environment and the attorney general's office yesterday combed an Anne Arundel highway construction site looking for hazardous materials that may be buried there.
As of late yesterday, the search at the intersection of U.S. 50 and Interstate 97 just north of Annapolis had uncovered two 55-gallon barrels -- one containing a "grease-like" substance, said Liz Kalinowski, a spokeswoman for the State Highway Administration.
"We're taking it extremely seriously," Ms. Kalinowski said. But while the materials found yesterday had been disposed of improperly, investigators did not believe they were hazardous, she said. The search will continue today.
An analysis of the liquid found yesterday may take several weeks, Ms. Kalinowski said.
Officials were called to the site on Wednesday after an employee from Dewey Jordan Inc., a Frederick contractor hired to widen parts of U.S. 50, reported that he had been ordered to bury several barrels while construction workers cleaned up the site about a month ago.
The employee told investigators that one of the barrels contained a black liquid that smelled like creosote.
Creosote, or a similar substance, may have been used as a preservative on concrete bridge supports, Ms. Kalinowski said.
Sandra Palmer, a spokeswoman for the state Department of the Environment, said there are no restrictions on the use of creosote in Maryland, though "it is considered a hazardous waste if disposed of improperly."
Officials at Dewey Jordan would not comment on the investigation.
Ms. Kalinowski said state inspectors were present during the construction and cleanup at the site, but may not have noticed workers burying materials because the job site was nearly 4 miles long.
Ms. Kalinowski said the contractor could face a variety of penalties if it is proven that the company ordered the burial or knew about it.
The penalties range from a reprimand to being prohibited from bidding on state projects, she said. The contractor could also be forced to pay for any costs associated with the cleanup.
If hazardous materials are found, the company could face criminal charges, she said.
Dewey Jordan has worked on a number of state projects. The company was awarded a $31 million contract to widen U.S. 50 from I-97 to Route 424 in April 1992.
The interchange at U.S. 50 and I-97 was finished only recently, and workers were planting and watering grass seed along the intersection's embankments when the investigators arrived yesterday.