EPA begins more tests on landfill

Agency may put it on Superfund list

April 07, 2000|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began collecting a new round of soil and water samples this week to determine whether a closed landfill in eastern Baltimore County should be added to the agency's list of Superfund cleanup sites.

EPA officials, who proposed more than 14 months ago adding the 68th Street Dump/Industrial Enterprises site to the Superfund list, said the tests could provide more detailed information on contamination at the Rosedale property.

The need for more testing on a property that has been scrutinized since the 1980s was questioned by at least one property owner opposed to adding the site to the Superfund list and by an environmental group that says the site should be placed on the list.

"It's very disappointing that the EPA is really dillydallying around," said Rena Steinzor, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Maryland law school, and attorney for the Herring Run Watershed Association.

"I don't understand what the hang-up is," she said, adding that the watershed association "strongly supports getting this site put on the list so it will be cleaned up right, and there will be no further threat to the [Chesapeake] Bay."

Representatives of Pulaski & 68th Street LLC, a corporate trust that owns a portion of the property, complained that EPA officials might be struggling to justify adding the site to the Superfund list.

"It sounds to me like [the EPA] is going to keep studying it until they find something," said Ken Binnix, property manager for the Pulaski & 68th Street corporation. "There must be 50 reports."

At issue is the means and method for cleaning up, or at least containing, hazardous waste left by a ring of abandoned dumps along U.S. 40 near the Baltimore-Baltimore County border. EPA officials say hazardous substances detected at the site include volatile organic compounds, metals and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Also, they say, mercury has been found in stream sediment.

The site was proposed for the Superfund list in part because runoff might harm Chesapeake Bay tributaries such as Herring Run and Moores Run. If the 165-acre site is added to what is formally known as the EPA's National Priorities List, environmental officials could draw from the $1 billion Superfund trust fund to pay for cleanup.

State environmental officials said there have been no major cleanup at the Rosedale site, the source of environmental concerns since at least 1955, when health officials recommended that a landfill there be closed. The landfill operated from 1953 until 1969, when the Baltimore County Health Department obtained a court order to end the refuse operations, according to the EPA.

That landfill -- operated by the Robb Tyler, who in the 1960s became the Baltimore area's largest trash hauler -- was closed after Rosedale residents repeatedly complained of uncontrolled fires and foul odors.

Tyler disposed of industrial and commercial refuse, waste oils and uncooled ash from the nearby Baltimore City trash incinerator, EPA officials have said. Maryland Department of the Environment files show that acres of wetlands were filled in, and drums of oil were poured into huge pits near Herring Run.

In 1979, state inspectors found more than 20 buried drums containing heavy metals on land that Tyler had leased from Industrial Enterprises Inc., according to the EPA. In 1985, officials found PCBs in oil seeping from a stream bank in the landfill, the EPA says.

Based on tests that have already been conducted, the site was given a score that surpassed the minimum to be a Superfund site, said Bill Wentworth, the EPA's site assessment director for Maryland and Delaware. In January last year, the EPA nominated the landfill as a Superfund site and invited public comment.

Among those comments were complaints about the scoring system from BFI Waste Systems of North America, which operated a landfill at the site, and from Pulaski & 68th Street. Lawyers for those property owners complained that the score assumed that site is near a "fishery," despite what they consider limited evidence to support that contention.

This week, the EPA began collecting samples at a portion of the property owned by CSX Corp. A backhoe dug mounds of earth from a shallow landfill. Workers in plastic suits and disposable "booties," some wearing respirators, spooned soil from aluminum pans into glass vials.

"We just felt, while we're evaluating the comments, we could collect additional data to better evaluate the site," Wentworth said.

The EPA expects to work two to three weeks to collect and test about 150 soil samples and up to 40 water and stream sediment samples from the property, portions of which are owned by the Baltimore, Baltimore County and state governments, according to records. The results will help determine whether the site is placed on the Superfund list.

Nancy Leiter, president of the Rosedale Community Association, said members of her organization are trying to be patient and have one hope for the property.

"We want it cleaned up as fast as we can get it done," she said.

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