3 families awarded $72,775 in damages from scrap yard in Southwest Baltimore They say children were sickened, community polluted

January 31, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Three Southwest Baltimore families have won $72,775 in damages from United Iron & Metal Co. after they claimed the scrap metal dealer that processes 200 million pounds of steel each year polluted the community, made their children sick and rocked the area with frequent explosions.

The damages were awarded this week by a Baltimore Circuit Court jury after a two-week trial before Circuit Judge John Themelis.

"The explosions were really horrible. The first time we heard it there was a big, loud noise and I though the roof had collapsed," said Mortaza Sholough, who lives in the 900 block of S. Brunswick St., about 75 yards from United Iron & Metal's 18-acre scrap yard at 2545 Wilkens Ave.

Sholough and two neighbors filed suit in January last year, claiming that the frequent explosions of vehicle gas tanks being compacted at the plant rocked their houses and caused structural damage.

He said two of his three children developed asthma from the fibers, or "fluff," released from auto interiors as they were being destroyed and that the smoke generated by the plant caused other physical ailments.

A similar civil suit filed against United Iron & Metal by the community in 1993 was settled. The terms remain sealed in the city's Circuit Court.

During testimony this month, owners of the plant in the densely populated Mill Hill neighborhood near Carroll Park said they installed equipment in 1995 that "ended the explosions and significantly reduced dirt and noise that the neighbors were complaining about," said attorney Robert Carson, who represents Cincinnati-based David J. Joseph Co., the owner of United Iron & Metal.

"The jury obviously felt that, pre-1995, the conditions were not something they would like to live with, and the relatively small amount of the award shows they thought the company did the right thing and fixed the plant up," Carson said.

Another United Iron & Metal attorney, Gary R. Jones, noting the size of the award, said, "The company views the verdict as a total victory for the company."

Attorney G. Macy Nelson, who represented Sholough and his neighbors Janet Billings and Dorothy Gillespie, said the company protected its employees but did not warn the community about potential environmental and health dangers.

"There was evidence that the David Joseph Co. made its employees wear masks and respirators because they are burning lead off of equipment and plastics, but did not warn the community living on the other side of the fence," Nelson said. "They admitted in testimony that their own employees had respiratory problems. The jury found they operated negligently and trespassed and created a nuisance."

Sholough said yesterday that he was disappointed with the award, in part because it will not cover medical costs for his children's illnesses, which he attributes to the plant.

"It is not even enough to cover our emergency room costs, plus we still have to deal with future visits," Sholough said. "We want to put pressure on them to shut down the plant. That is our intention for the sake of the whole community."

Pub Date: 1/31/98

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