Residents, lawmakers want answers about spill S. Baltimore gas release studied, FMC official says

May 22, 1998|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

About 50 residents from the South Baltimore neighborhoods of Wagner's Point, Curtis Bay and Brooklyn, joined by several local lawmakers, lambasted state environmental officials and a chemical company last night for their handling of a chemical spill last week.

The residents crowded into the Curtis Bay Community Center for what was supposed to be an "informational meeting" on a hazardous-waste renewal permit for FMC Agricultural Products Chemicals.

However, the Maryland Department of the Environment's agenda for the meeting was tossed aside as angry residents demanded answers to their questions about the herbicide spill on the site that sent a gas plume over their neighborhoods.

"I want to know what was released that had that sickening sweet smell," said Rose Hindla, a Wagner's Point resident who said many people in the neighborhood suffered sore throats and burning noses and eyes in the incident.

"What if we would have died down there?" Hindla said. "Would it have taken two to three weeks to find out what it was?"

Parker Dean, the plant's health, safety and environmental manager, said FMC officials are trying to determine the chemical compounds in the plume, which formed when a process used to make liquid plant killer went awry.

Dean said the company has been making the herbicide without incident since 1986.

He said a reactor tank became "over pressurized" May 15 when a caustic chemical was added to neutralize acid that was supposed to be in the mixture. He said the tank apparently contained no acid.

"We know it destroyed all the herbicide, but what did we release?" Dean said.

Dean said the company has not been able to determine the answer to that question and said he realized that was an "inadequate explanation" that was not likely to satisfy worried residents who live near the plant.

Hindla and her sister-in-law Debbie Hindla complained that Wagner's Point residents were given no information at the scene May 15 on what they needed to do to protect their families.

State Sen. George W. Della Jr., Dels. Brian K. McHale and Timothy D. Murphy and city Councilman Edward L. Reisinger, all Democrats, sharply criticized the state Department of the Environment for its handling of the spill.

McHale told MDE officials that the agency had "failed miserably" in its response to the spill, and should have been in communication with residents to let them know what to do.

Pub Date: 5/22/98

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