Group wants coal-waste site closed

Activists say they found toxic ash on homes, playgrounds by dump

January 04, 2008|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN REPORTER

An environmental group said yesterday that it had found fly ash on houses and a playground near a coal-waste dump in Anne Arundel County, and it suggested that this poses a threat to public health.

"The state should close this facility permanently, require more air monitoring and put more requirements into state regulations to limit air pollution from future dumps," said Brad Heavner, executive director of Environment Maryland, a nonprofit group.

Officials with the Maryland Department of the Environment said their air testing around the Gambrills dump had found trace levels that don't pose a threat.

Dr. Phil Heard, health adviser to the state agency, said similar levels of ash are common across the state from decades of burning coal in power plants and other industries.

"Some ash might have come from that ash pit, but it's the amount that's the issue ... and it doesn't look like a lot," Heard said. "It doesn't look dangerous."

Fly ash is soot, often containing toxic heavy metals, that is captured in filters inside the smokestacks of power plants that burn coal.

A sand and gravel mine west of Route 3 in Gambrills was used for 12 years - until September - as a dump for millions of tons of the waste from two Baltimore-area power plants.

After activists at Environment Maryland complained about toxic metals from the dump seeping into the drinking water of several of local homes, the state imposed a $1 million fine Oct. 1 on the owner of those power plants, Constellation Energy, and the contractor that ran the dump, BBSS Inc.

Constellation said this fall that it had stopped dumping at the site. And in a consent order, the company agreed to submit a plan to the state to clean up the pollution and connect local homes to the county's public drinking water system.

The agreement does not prohibit future disposal of waste at the landfill.

Maureen Brown, a spokeswoman for Constellation, said, "We have no plans at this time" to put more ash in the Gambrills dump, but she didn't rule it out in the future. "If we did, however, it would be not until after engineering controls are in place to meet the conditions of the consent decree," she said.

Robert Ballinger, a spokesman for the state environmental agency, said that instead of closing the dump, the state has proposed tight regulations. Those rules would require ash landfills statewide to have liners and runoff collection systems to prevent leaking.

"We are hoping that the new regulatory program will help alleviate some of the concerns that people have about this issue," Ballinger said.

Heavner said the proposed regulations don't do enough to prevent ash from blowing off dumps and trucks.

Environment Maryland hired a Massachusetts-based consulting company, Eastmount Environmental Services, which found fly ash Nov. 2 at all 12 locations it checked around the dump, including homes, a playground and a senior citizens development.

The state's environmental agency collected seven dust samples Oct. 2 and Nov. 15 from sites ranging from 300 yards to 8 miles from the dump and found fly ash at levels similar to those found statewide.

tom.pelton@baltsun.com

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