Stagnant Superfund

Rosedale landfill: Despite known hazards, federal program was slow to add 68th Street site to cleanup list.

January 29, 1999

WHILE Superfund cleanup of the nation's toxic dumps drags on, amid legal battles and lengthy decontamination plans, the list of sites continues to grow. Sixteen U.S. hazardous waste sites were added this month and 11 more are proposed.

In East Baltimore, near the old Pulaski Highway Incinerator, an illegal dump that has been a community insult for more than four decades may soon become eligible for federal cleanup funds. It would join some 1,200 sites on the Superfund list that began in 1981.

The languid pace for proposing the 68th Street Landfill reflects problems inherent in Superfund: diffuse legal responsibility for the landfill and for poisons dumped there; limited government funds, protracted state negotiations; lack of an alternative.

The Rosedale dump near the Baltimore city-county line oozes a dangerous assortment of toxic chemicals into nearby streams and soil: oil compounds, mercury and heavy metals, PCBs and the mysterious residue of incinerator ash. Fires have broken out, buried barrels exploded. Skies once rained soot and ash from the dump onto the neighborhood, and wrapped it in a noisome pall.

The 165-acre landfill, owned by a large trash company, was closed in 1969 by court order. But illegal dumping went on as late as 1993, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees Superfund.

After the Rosedale site makes the Superfund list, it could still take years for action, given the backlog and cost of these cleanups. A chemical-maker tax that paid for most of the program expired three years ago. Congress has failed since 1993 to authorize a reformed Superfund system.

Families complained for years about harmful effects of the 68th Street dump. But it took concern about pollution of Chesapeake Bay tributaries to finally prod EPA to propose the site for Superfund.

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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