Gilchrest asks for probe of fuel dumping Congressman tells House panel of BWI incident

Two were sickened

Republican seeks information on similar events

January 23, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest has called on a congressional subcommittee to investigate planes' practice of dumping fuel in midair.

Gilchrest, a Republican who represents the Eastern Shore, faxed a letter to the House Subcommittee on Aviation yesterday drawing its attention to an incident Tuesday in which a DC-10 making an emergency landing at Baltimore-Washington International Airport accidentally released about 100 gallons of fuel over Glen Burnie.

"It alarmed me to the degree that I don't know how often this happens," Gilchrest said. "I want to see how many times this has happened in the country in the last five years. If this is an isolated incident and the last time it happened was 20 years ago, that's one thing. But even if it potentially could happen several times a year, that's pretty unacceptable."

Rep. John J. "Jimmy" Duncan Jr., a Tennessee Republican who heads the subcommittee, could not be reached for comment. BWI spokeswoman Marilyn Corbett said, "All we can really say is, we welcome a review of the national procedures."

A World Airways plane the Illinois Air Force had chartered to transport personnel and their families to Germany turned back to BWI for an emergency landing Tuesday after a 22-month-old passenger had a seizure and fell unconscious.

To land the plane safely according to Federal Aviation Administration weight regulations, the pilot had to dump 13,000 gallons of fuel, which evaporates quickly if released at high altitudes.

A valve failed to shut completely, however, and the plane sprayed Glen Burnie with fuel as it flew low near BWI. A mother and son heading to a Cub Scout meeting at Arthur Slade Regional Catholic School a mile from the airport were enveloped in mist from the fuel, which gave them minor skin irritations, headaches and nausea.

County officials, environmentalists and a Maryland Department of Environment spokesman said this was not the first such incident near BWI.

"It's necessary to raise the issue to the level that it becomes a Congressional priority," Gilchrest said. "I want [the subcommittee to find out] everything about the discharges -- how high is it supposed to take place, does there need to be a better design for the airplane and is there any reimbursement to the community for damage done to the grass, somebody's dog, somebody's car, somebody's health?"

Gilchrest said he would also ask the subcommittee to look into de-icing procedures at airports around the country. The Natural Resource Defense Council of New York City recently sent BWI officials a notice of intent to file suit in federal court in Baltimore, claiming the airport has violated the federal Clean Water Act by allowing toxic de-icing chemicals to flow from runways into Chesapeake Bay streams.

County officials and environmentalists supported Gilchrest's proposal.

"If we can prevent [planes dumping fuel onto neighbor- hoods] from happening again, it would be great," said state Del. Mary Ann Love, a Democrat who represents Glen Burnie. "Even though [fuel] is usually dumped over the ocean and they say it's a mist and a lot of it doesn't even reach the ground, we should study it to see if it really does."

State Del. James E. Rzepkowski, a Republican who also represents Glen Burnie, said he is sending a letter to BWI officials today asking them to compile a brochure for residents near the airport explaining how fuel discharges happen and advising them what to do.

Mary Rosso, president of the Maryland Waste Coalition, said she hopes Gilchrest's proposal effect change in fuel dumping practices. She said she has received complaints from residents near BWI about the phenomenon, including one five years ago from a woman who said her swimming pool was coated with a film of what appeared to be fuel.

"It might be happening more than we realize, and I want to know who's watchdogging this," Rosso said. "It seems to me that if anything is to be done, it's on the federal level. The state seems to be pretty powerless when it comes to enforcing anything on the airport, from what I've been seeing."

Pub Date: 1/23/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.