Speakout

September 30, 2007

LAST WEEK'S ISSUE: -- Republican members of the Anne Arundel County Council fended off accusations of filibustering after their objections to legislation to ban the dumping of coal ash at new sites delayed a vote for two weeks.

After more than three hours of testimony and deliberations Sept. 17, the council appeared ready to vote six minutes before midnight, the deadline to consider the emergency bill.

But comments by Council Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks and Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, who had voted unsuccessfully moments earlier to delay a vote for two weeks, took up the rest of the time.

Vitale, a Severna Park Republican, said she supports the bill but expressed concern that a ban on fly ash could allow it to be dumped at the county landfill in Millersville.

Middlebrooks, a Severn Republican, said the bill amounted to "taking our problems and passing them off to other counties or other states."

The council, which tacked on a sunset provision that would end the ban after one year, is scheduled to vote on the bill tomorrow.

County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican, proposed the legislation in July after polluted drinking water was found near Constellation Energy's dumping site in Gambrills.

Will the bill, which would have no effect on operations at the site in Gambrills, ensure the safety of drinking water, or does it shift the fly ash problem elsewhere?

Ban would protect public health

County Executive John R. Leopold's bill to ban fly ash dumping is an important public health measure that should be passed.

Fly ash dumped at the BBSS Inc. sand mine in Gambrills has contaminated drinking water in at least 45 county homes and businesses. Some of the contaminated wells contain heavy metals known to cause serious health problems, including cancer. Currently neither the federal nor state government regulates fly ash, despite the tremendous volume produced by all coal-burning electric plants, including Constellation Energy Group's Brandon Shores.

In the absence of any federal or state law governing fly ash, Leopold's bill is a responsible step to protect public health. The ban will prevent other communities from experiencing health threats in the future. Constellation will need to dispose of fly ash in ways that do not threaten our health.

There is no reason to wait for others to act. For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has monitored dozens of proven coal ash damage cases, yet has issued no rules. It is entirely unknown when or if any new requirements will be imposed on fly ash dumping. That is why the County Council needs to act before yet more groundwater pollution occurs.

No, the bill will not affect operations at BBSS -- only the state has the authority to revoke its permit. With Leopold's support, the Anne Arundel County Department of Health will continue to assist all households that have contaminated water. We will help residents get clean water and complete health assessments. We hope the Council does its part and passes the ban so that this contamination does not recur

Frances B. Phillips

The writer is the Anne Arundel County health officer.

Delaying vote was shameful

At least County Executive John R. Leopold had the common decency to introduce legislation dealing with fly ash disposal in Anne Arundel County at the behest of the health officer.

Fly ash is a hazardous waste, contaminating surrounding residential wells and spreading black soot in nearby neighborhoods. The problem surfaced at the disposal site in 1999 but somehow got lost in the deregulation debate. So a resolution to the health hazard was delayed eight years in favor of business, while the residents drank bottled water, sucked in soot and endangered families and children.

County Council members Cathleen M. Vitale and C. Edward Middlebrooks shamefully delayed the vote on the bill, putting public health second to commerce.

Maryellen O. Brady Edgewater

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