The nation's second-largest waste handler was sued for $100 million this week in federal court by a man who says its Solley Road landfill has contaminated his adjacent land with hazardous waste so badly that he cannot develop it.
John C. Blumenthal, whose Blumenthal Power Co. Inc. owns 145 acres between the closed landfill and Marley Creek, has proposed building a 738-home subdivision on the site. But cancer-causing chemicals from the landfill, owned by Browning Ferris Industries, have turned up in test wells on his property.
Contaminated ground water has been moving west toward Marley Creek at about 100 feet a year, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. A second plume was detected this year.
BFI spokesman Peter Blocker said company officials were not surprised by the suit but could not comment because they had not seen it.
The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, claims that BFI violated a 1991 agreement not to allow hazardous contaminants to seep into Mr. Blumenthal's property.
It seeks $20 million in compensatory damages, $20 million in special and incidental damages, and $60 million in punitive damages.
Despite the allegations, BFI's stock prices should remain stable, said Marc Sulam, an analyst with Kidder Peabody & Co. in New York. The firm "has one of the strongest balance sheets among all of the environmental service companies in this country," he said.
BFI closed at 29 1/4 , down 1/8 , on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday.
Mr. Blumenthal said yesterday he met with BFI officials on July 6, before test wells installed on his land turned up trichloroethylene, benzene and other hazardous chemicals. The sides could not reach an agreement.
Now he cannot obtain financing for his development. "My financier does not feel it is a risk worth taking knowing there is a level of contamination on the site," he said.
"If you can't get financing, you have a worthless piece of property," explained Thomas Guckenburg, a North County real estate broker.
BFI purchased the Solley Road landfill in 1973 and began operating it as a licensed, hazardous-waste landfill in 1977. It was closed in 1982. Two years later, the Maryland Department of the Environment said hazardous waste was seeping into the ground water.
Now, environmental protections are failing. BFI is seeking federal permission to reseal the trash hills. It built a network of pipes and aerators last year to clean the underground water and return it to the ground, but shut that down in March because it was blocking the aquifer.