Contents of mulch by creek examined

Laboratory analysis indicates that material contains creosote


State environmental officials are reopening an investigation into a Severna Park waterfront property to determine whether mulch placed there to prevent erosion contains toxic chemicals.

The inquiry was prompted originally by the complaints of a neighboring homeowner concerned that runoff from pollutants in the mulch could contaminate Cypress Creek.

An inspector from the Maryland Department of the Environment determined in August that the mulch, which had been spread by a homeowner on his property, was produced from natural wood products. The neighbor who lodged the complaint, Walter Holtz, later had a sample of the mulch tested at a private lab, and the results indicated that the material contained creosote, a potentially hazardous material used as a wood preservative.

"It's toxic and it's going to go into the creek and that creek is a breeding ground for small fish and crabs -- the place is loaded with them," said Holtz, a retired Baltimore police officer who owns two properties adjacent to the mulched land at 738 Oak Grove Circle.

He said he is not satisfied by MDE's decision to revisit the mulched property.

"I want an independent investigation by another agency because they can't investigate themselves," Holtz said. "This is not going to die; I won't let them destroy this creek."

Holtz alerted MDE to his concerns in August, and a state field inspector visited the site Aug. 13 and Aug. 21. After concluding that the mulch was made from natural wood products, the inspector decided that a lab analysis wasn't necessary, said John Verrico, an MDE spokesman.

But a dissatisfied Holtz took a mulch sample to Penniman and Brown, an environmental lab in Baltimore County, and paid $330 to have it analyzed.

Testing showed that the mulch contains creosote and other substances, according to lab supervisor Barbara A. Black.

Creosote is a coal tar-based product used as a preservative for railroad ties and telephone poles.

"The Environmental Protection Agency has set no limits for [creosote], so I can't say it's above a certain limit or below a certain limit," Black said. "I don't know if it's going to hurt the water or how it will affect things as time goes on."

But Holtz is convinced that the mulch should be removed.

"It's got to be scraped clean," he said.

Verrico said that, based on the test results, MDE plans to revisit the property. "We are going to go and take another look and likely take a sample," Verrico said. "But I don't want to say we're going to spend $1,000 for a lab test if nothing warrants it."

Verrico said the department didn't order tests on the mulch because the inspector who visited the sites found no reason to do so.

"She did not have any indication, by sight or smell, that it warranted further attention," he said.

According to the inspector's field reports, the mulch came from a supplier in Calvert County. The report states that the supplier told the inspector that the mulch was produced from natural wood products and contained no treated lumber.

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