Fly ash controls eyed at Solley EPA, state officials hear residents' fears on BGE disposal site

June 09, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Federal and state environmental agencies are looking into whether to require air quality controls for a fly ash disposal site in North Anne Arundel County after a meeting yesterday in which nearby residents asked the officials for an air-monitoring station.

The residents, many of them members of the Coalition of Communities and Citizens Against Fly Ash (CCCAF), fear that fly ash particles in the air could cause respiratory problems.

Representatives from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment met in South Baltimore with a local Sierra Club leader, Solley community residents and two air experts who backed the residents' request.

David B. McGuigan, chief of the EPA's Air Enforcement Section, said his agency will research the issue and decide whether the controls are necessary by summer's end.

"One of the things I have to do is find out what information is available about this kind of thing and talk to my counterparts around the country and find out how they handle it," McGuigan said.

The residents have been waging a running battle with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. over its use of fly ash -- a byproduct of burning coal for electricity -- as fill under its Brandon Woods Business park.

At a meeting with state and federal officials in April, experts brought in by the residents discussed studies that they said show that BGE's disposal site on Solley Road has contaminated the air with particles of fly ash and could taint well water, too.

Jane Nes, a member of CCCAF who has plans to build about 700 single-family homes and townhouses on 151 acres between Marley Neck Boulevard and Solley Road, said she was glad the residents presented their side of the argument to both agencies yesterday.

But representatives of BGE, which operates the disposal site, were upset that they were not informed of the meeting.

"It's news to me," said Jeff Jefferson, a BGE spokesman. "It seems to me that if they really wanted to resolve the issue, [the residents] would sit down with us and discuss the issues, but it isn't happening here. That's not really fair for the corporation."

BGE began using 3 million tons of fly ash as fill under the three-section business park in 1982. The utility, which burns about 5 million tons of coal a year, producing 500,000 tons of fly ash, began getting criticism from the residents when the third section of the business park started going up about five years ago.

Residents are now fighting to get building permits for the third section rescinded, or to have the state or EPA require new, more stringent permits.

Yesterday, Maureen Barrett, an air-quality expert from Sudbury, Mass., said that preliminary air studies she conducted in the Solley community show evidence of fly ash particles in the air.

She said there are no air monitoring stations in the heavily industrialized area that track these particles. MDE officials said a station at Hawkins Point was closed a few years ago.

Mike Burke, an Annapolis-based EPA representative, said there are no plans to reopen the Hawkins Point station. He said agency officials have told Barrett that they would look at any interesting data she develops showing possible problems.

Rebecca Bascom, chief of pulmonary allergy and critical care medicine at the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine, said residents were told fly ash is a "soil-like material" when BGE began placing it on the site.

"But this is not soil-like material for a number of reasons," Bascom said. "It's fine, it floats it gets past the nose and into the lungs. It's a big deal if it gets into your lungs."

MDE and EPA representatives said they will also look into whether they should consider the fly ash site as contiguous with BGE's Brandon Woods Power Plant, located next to it. If so, McGuigan said, air permits could be necessary.

Representatives from both agencies also met with U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a 1st District Republican, yesterday afternoon to discuss the BGE site. Burke said his agency has begun research in the community at Gilchrest's request, but that tests haven't been completed on soil and water samples taken PTC from the area. He said he expects the results in a few weeks.

Burke said MDE representatives told Gilchrest that they're considering developing a permit specifically addressing fly ash disposal, which the state does not have.

"Obviously, it's a tactic [by the residents] to introduce the permitting process again into this," said BGE spokeswoman Kathleen Nolan. "And every time we've tried to get a new permit, they've placed a new obstacle in our path."

Gilchrest said he's glad the state and federal agencies are checking out an issue that he said may have been overlooked.

"The EPA says that they haven't looked into this because -- and I know this because I'm a congressman -- they have too much work, too few staff, too little money," Gilchrest said. "I'm really pleased with the progress we're making here."

Pub Date: 6/09/98

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