Gambrills family suit claims water fouled by dump

Seeks damages from Constellation Energy

November 30, 2007|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,Sun reporter

An Anne Arundel County family has filed a lawsuit against Maryland's largest power company, contending that a leaky coal-ash waste dump contaminated their neighborhood's drinking water.

At a news conference yesterday in Gambrills, Gayle K. Queen, an education counselor, said her husband, David, died of kidney failure last year after drinking water laced with lead, arsenic and other pollutants. Five or six other people in the neighborhood also died of suspicious causes, she said.

"The people in this neighborhood are anxious every day if the water they drink every day is safe or toxic," said one of her attorneys, Wayne K. Curry, the former Prince George's County executive, now with William H. Murphy Jr.'s law firm in Baltimore. "It's a porridge of hazardous chemicals being inflicted on these residents," Curry said.

A claim filed yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court seeks to represent dozens of local residents in a class action lawsuit that would make Constellation Energy pay unspecified damages for personal injuries and loss of property values.

For 12 years until this fall, Constellation worked with a contractor to dump billions of tons of waste ash from its Brandon Shores coal-fired power plant into an unlined former gravel mine pit not far from the homes of Queen and her neighbors.

County tests found that 23 wells in the area tested positive for dangerous metals such as arsenic, cadmium and thallium, all components of waste ash from smokestacks, also called "fly ash."

On Oct. 1, the Maryland Department of the Environment imposed a $1 million fine on Constellation and a contractor.

Robert Gould, a Constellation spokesman, said the company has stopped burying ash at the Gambrills dump and is working to connect dozens of local homes - many now relying on bottled water - to the county's public water system. The company is also working with the state and county to devise a plan to clean up the pollution. Gould would not comment on the lawsuit.

"Constellation Energy takes its responsibility to the environment and the community in which we operate very seriously, and we have and will continue to work closely with the state, county, and residents to address this issue in a satisfactory fashion," Gould said.

The state's environmental agency is investigating all 28 known coal fly ash waste sites across Maryland - including one in the Faulkner community in Southern Maryland - to see if contaminants are leaking out into underground streams and drinking water, said Robert Summers, deputy secretary.

"The inspectors will be hitting all these sites within the next 60 days and based on those inspections, some may need additional monitoring," said Summers. "If there are any drinking water issues, we will be testing wells."

The MDE has also drafted regulations to require liners under all new ash dumps statewide and more testing of groundwater.

Queen's lawsuit contends that Constellation knew about contamination in the neighborhood drinking water as early as 1999 but never warned local residents and "actively engaged in a campaign of deception to mislead neighbors into believing that the waste materials do not present ... a threat."

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