$2.85 million deal reached on Carrs Mill 3 national companies paying for cleanup at toxic landfill

'A very fair settlement'

None of the firms is admitting liability

February 06, 1997|By CRAIG TIMBERG | CRAIG TIMBERG,SUN STAFF

Three top national companies are paying $2.85 million toward the cleanup of 900 drums of toxic chemicals illegally dumped at JTC Carrs Mill Landfill in western Howard County -- ending an investigation that began with an anonymous tip 20 years ago.

So much time has passed since the dumping in the summer of 1976 that the landfill supervisor suspected by the county of allowing it is dead. And the three companies originally involved have been bought, sold or transformed by corporate restructuring.

But with the deal that was signed this week, Howard County recovers most of its costs from the Carrs Mill cleanup, finished in 1995. And three prominent companies clear themselves of potential liability under far-reaching federal environmental laws.

"We were fortunate to get that much money," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "[The companies] really stepped up to the plate and took responsibility."

The three firms are Waste Management of Maryland, the local division of the world's largest waste hauler; the Beatrice Co., a Chicagoconglomerate; and Lucent Technologies, formerly the manufacturing arm of AT&T, now based in New Jersey.

None is admitting liability. But each is paying one-third of the settlement, $950,000, to Howard County in exchange for its agreement to waive possible legal claims for the dumping at Carrs Mill.

Waste Management paid part of its bill by doing $135,000 worth of hauling during the Carrs Mill cleanup. Its check to Howard County is for the remaining amount, $815,000.

Howard County first learned of the illegal dumping at Carrs Mill in July 1976, when an anonymous caller reported an alleged bribery scheme to administration officials.

Time line

Police reports from the time tell this story:

A tipster told county officials that the supervisor at Carrs Mill, Francis "Sonny" Bohager, had received a $250 bribe from F.P.R. Bohager & Sons Inc., a Baltimore waste hauler run by his relatives on South Eden Street in Fells Point.

The tipster also told of a specific shipment of toxic chemicals arriving in 55-gallon drums on two red Bohager trucks. Police intercepted the shipment -- some of which had been dumped beside a service road at the landfill -- and questioned the drivers. Later, police questioned company officials.

Police determined that the shipment they intercepted included 101 drums of toxic industrial waste from Farboil Paint Co. and Western Electric Co., the manufacturing division of AT&T.

The two companies acknowledged contracting with F.P.R. Bohager & Sons to haul away nearly 2,700 drums of chemicals over seven months in 1976. But both companies have always contended they had no knowledge that any waste would be dumped illegally.

Unable to prove that any bribery scheme existed, police did not bring charges against Sonny Bohager or F.P.R. Bohager & Sons. State environmental officials arranged to have the drums disposed of properly. County officials conducted a minor cleanup of the dumping area.

One of the final police reports on the incident said that informants continued to make allegations about operations at F.P.R. Bohager & Sons at Carrs Mill, but police acknowledged that the investigation was drying up.

"Evidence that Bohager has dumped toxic chemicals at Howard County landfills on other occasions may come when other barrels are unearthed at Carrs Mill," said the report from July 23, 1976 -- a year before Carrs Mill Landfill closed for good.

In September 1993, as Howard County officials prepared to seal the site with an impermeable cap, they started finding rusty, empty 55-gallon drums buried in the same area where F.P.R. Bohager & Sons had been found dumping.

900 drums found

Over several months of digging, the county found about 900 drums. Ground water tests showed concentrations of two carcinogens -- tricholorethene and a form of dichlorothene -- far higher than federal drinking water standards allowed.

Cleaning up the site -- a project that involved removing 4,000 tons contaminated soil -- cost Howard County $2.4 million, said John O'Hara, chief of Howard's bureau of waste management. The county also had to design its cap for the landfill to cover the main trenches of the landfill and the relatively small area of the illegal dumping. The county also is planning to build a system of 14 pumping wells to extract and clean contaminated ground water.

O'Hara estimated that the toxic dumping is adding $490,000 more to the cost of the 8-acre landfill cap and the pumping system. Construction on the cap and pumping system is scheduled to begin this summer.

If his estimate is right, Howard will spend $2.89 million because of the illegal dumping. That means the $2.85 million settlement covers nearly the entire bill, though it pays for none of the county's staff time devoted to the problem.

"We're very happy about it," O'Hara said. "We got a very fair settlement."

The project of recovering that money began shortly after county officials discovered the 900 drums more than three years ago.

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