A Baltimore home improvement contractor has become the first one sent to jail on pollution charges for allowing lead paint-laden wastewater from a Canton rowhouse he was working on to escape into a storm drain and into Chesapeake Bay.
City officials and Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said yesterday that they hope the sentence will get the attention of other contractors in the lucrative business of rehabilitating houses in the city's newly fashionable neighborhoods.
"We're doing all these things to clean up the bay, and we have people letting this stuff get into the water," Curran said. "This is the seventh or eighth case we've had this year. We're going to ask for jail time any time it's willful."
Frederick Dean Cichorz, owner of New Faces Masonry, pleaded guilty in Baltimore District Court on Tuesday to discharging a pollutant into Maryland waters. Judge Charles C. Chiapparelli sentenced him to six months in jail, with all but two weeks suspended, and fined him $5,000.
It was Cichorz's third such offense since 1994. The length of the sentence wasn't so important as the fact that he "got real jail time," Curran said.
City regulations require contractors who strip Formstone and paint from old houses to capture the wastewater and have it hauled away for disposal by licensed contractors.
But, there are "quite a few entrepreneurs who go into this thing on their own without the proper training or equipment," said David Eick, a pollution analyst for the city Department of Public Works.
Eick said the department has been trying for 10 years to educate contractors on the importance of containing wastewater, but as the pace of housing rehabilitation has grown in the city, the problems have increased.
"In past years, we've issued 300 permits, and we're on a pace to surpass that this year," he said.
Most of the problems, Eick said, originate with unlicensed contractors and others who are trying to cut costs.
Cichorz, who received fines and suspended jail sentences in 1994 and 1998 for dumping contaminated wastewater into city storm drains, has a home improvement license.
He was charged in this case after neighbors in the 1000 block of S. Kenwood Ave. in Canton complained to city firefighters last September that employees of Cichorz's brick-cleaning business were washing paint-laden wastewater into the storm drain on the block.
Investigators from the city's public works department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigated the complaints and charged Cichorz.
The attorney general's Environmental Crimes Unit prosecuted the case because the storm drains are considered part of state waters, Curran explained.