Waste allegedly buried before state inspection Arundel company probed over storage of PCBs

December 30, 1997|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Two days before a state inspector was due in for an announced spot check this summer, a north Anne Arundel County industrial construction company hurriedly disposed of waste materials, ordering a crew to dig a hole and bury them, current and former employees say.

The Maryland Department of the Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are investigating McShane Inc., at 605 Pittman Road just south of Baltimore, for possible illegal storage of lighting components containing toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The company builds chemical and pharmaceutical plants.

The EPA also is investigating allegations that the company illegally buried waste outside the plant.

McShane could be fined up to $50,000.

The MDE referred questions about the investigation to the EPA, which customarily refuses to release details of current cases. The U.S. attorney's office has sealed documents relating to the case pending the investigation. That could take several months, an EPA investigator said.

Six current and former McShane employees said Bud Maenner, the company's vice president of operations, ordered the cleanup, rounding up employees after the MDE called him for permission to conduct an inspection in June.

Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the MDE, said the inspection was triggered by a tip that McShane was storing PCBs illegally.

After the inspection, McShane was given 90 days to register as a generator of hazardous wastes and to hire a contractor to remove the PCBs, both of which it has done.

Ed Kila, president of McShane, declined to comment on the alleged burial of waste. He said he was not working that day, and that Maenner was responsible for the cleanup and told him about it later.

Maenner didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

'Perfectly normal'

"He didn't give me details about how everything was cleaned up," Kila said. "But he said that it looked messy back there and he wanted to straighten up. I viewed it as perfectly normal. Companies do it all the time, a little beautification. We had the MDE coming here, so we wanted to make sure all the T's were crossed and the I's were dotted."

The current and former employees who spoke to The Sun recently requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation but said they wanted to talk because they were frustrated by McShane's actions.

"You just can't go around breaking laws," said the employee who tipped off the EPA and apparently triggered a search of the company's facilities in August. "It's a moral responsibility to want the company to do the right thing."

When the EPA showed up in August, along with the FBI, agents found 84 drums of suspected hazardous wastes, state officials said. The federal officials took samples of soil, waste and other materials to test for toxicity.

Some of the employees who spoke to The Sun were laid off after the spot check. Kila said layoffs after the inspections were the result of a scarcity of contracts. The company, east of the Coast Guard Yard on the Marley Neck Peninsula, has about 160 employees.

"I know exactly why they're doing this," Kila said of the employees who made the complaints. "They got laid off, and they didn't like Bud Maenner, and they're trying to get back at him. It doesn't make me happy. It's cost me a lot of attorney's fees, a lot of headaches."

When state inspectors visited McShane in June, they found in a barrel lighting ballasts containing PCBs. The ballasts are box-shaped electrical transformers that could be 9 to 21 inches long, 1.75 to 3 inches thick and 2 to 4 inches wide, said John Kronshage, a vice president at Wisconsin Ballast Inc., one of the oldest ballast-disposal companies in the country.

Kronshage said his company disposes of ballasts by removing the parts that contain PCBs and sending them in sealed drums to EPA-approved incinerators. He said his workers then recycle steel and copper parts.

Kila said McShane had had the ballasts since it moved to its Pittman Road premises three years ago and replaced the old lighting system. He said the company did not know how to dispose of the ballasts, so it stored them in sealed drums on concrete pads.

Employees said the ballasts were stored in the yard behind the shop in unsealed drums. They said that when Maenner was notified about the impending MDE inspection June 10, he rounded up 15 or 20 employees to clean up the yard.

State officials said they customarily inform companies of inspections when they have no reason to believe that a company has acted criminally.

"I heard that there was an inspector coming, and everybody dashed out back," said a former employee who was working in the shop the day of the inspection. Employees said the cleanup crew spent a few hours cleaning piles of trash and unsealed barrels of unidentified liquid waste in the yard.

They said Maenner instructed an employee to dig a hole with a bucket loader and bury waste in it.

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