Probe focuses on storage of chemicals Company suspected of violations in handling of PCBs

State deadline near

EPA test results will be released in 2 to 4 weeks

September 07, 1997|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Federal and state environmental officials are investigating a north Anne Arundel County industrial contractor suspected of illegally storing hazardous chemicals, authorities say.

The investigation could lead to fines of up to $50,000 if the company, McShane Inc., was convicted of any criminal charge.

An inspector from the state Department of the Environment visited McShane, in the 600 block of Pittman Road, in early June on a tip from a former employee and found a drum containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), said Quentin W. Banks, a department spokesman.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says PCBs are carcinogenic.

The inspector gave the company 90 days to register with the EPA as a generator of hazardous waste and to hire a contractor to remove the PCBs.

On Aug. 7, the EPA -- independently of the state investigation -- obtained a search warrant to check McShane's premises and found 84 drums of suspected hazardous materials, Banks said. The inspectors took samples from the drums and are testing them, he said. The results will be released in two to four weeks.

The EPA referred questions to the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore, which declined to comment because the documents in the case are sealed pending the EPA's findings.

Ed Kila, McShane's president, said most of the 84 drums the EPA found contain old oil from machinery, but he conceded that the company has had three to four drums containing PCBs since it moved to the site three years ago.

Lighting was replaced

When McShane moved into the Pittman Road building, the company replaced the lighting system, which contained PCBs, and stored the old lights in sealed drums on concrete pads outside the building, he said.

"We weren't sure what to do with it," Kila said. "I guess we figured that we were going to get rid of them one day and we were going to pursue the proper and correct way to do it."

McShane Inc., also known as MCS Baltimore, builds, maintains and retrofits chemical and pharmaceutical plants. It has 160 employees at its building east of the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, on the Marley Neck Peninsula.

Banks said the company does not have a permit to possess or store PCBs, which were commonly used as insulators in electrical transformers in the 1970s. In addition to being a carcinogen, PCBs can cause rashes and irritate the eyes, nose and lungs, the EPA says.

"This is one of the reasons [residents] are very fearful of getting more heavy industry in the area," said Mary Rosso, president of the Maryland Waste Coalition and a Marley Neck resident for 34 years. "These companies don't care. This doesn't give me very much security over how [McShane employees] handle their other business."

The drums that Kila said might contain PCBs are being stored outside on concrete pads, apparently in violation of EPA requirements that such storage areas have roofs and walls. The agency also specifies that PCBs can be stored no more than 30 days in a facility that does not meet the criteria.

Last week, with the state's 90-day deadline near, Kila said McShane had not disposed of the drums containing PCBs. He said he was waiting for the EPA to send instructions on disposal.

"We're not making a move until they tell us what to do," he said.

Banks said that if Kila is not sure about disposal methods, he should consult department officials, who can "give necessary guidance."

Environmental groups expressed frustration with McShane's actions.

Terry J. Harris, chairman of the Sierra Club's Baltimore group, said many other companies have similarly stored hazardous waste for long periods because they did not research disposal methods.

"It's an easy corporate reaction," said Harris, who also is chairman of the Baltimore City League of Environmental Voters. "With something that's going to be a hassle and expensive and difficult, it's easy enough to put it off. And if you put it off long enough, you forget about it. But you can't do that; you can't just wish hazardous wastes away."

Earlier PCB incident

This is not the first time North County residents have dealt with PCBs. In 1980, the state Water Resources Administration decided to store more than 70 drums of oil containing PCBs at the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay. The oil in the drums had been pumped from illegal and abandoned storage tanks in Sharptown, on the Eastern Shore.

At least one spill occurred while the drums were stored there.

Rosso said she was angry McShane had not gotten rid of the PCBs.

"I can't believe somebody didn't say, 'Hey, by the way, did we ever take care of that?' " she said.

"Something's definitely lacking in their business management."

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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