Grant to help clean up fuel contamination

April 13, 2009|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

The state has received $3.7 million from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up soil and groundwater contamination from leaking underground fuel tanks in 70 sites across Maryland - about half of them in the Baltimore area.

Horacio Tablada, chief of waste management for the Maryland Department of the Environment, called the EPA funds "a shot in the arm" for his agency's efforts to clean up contamination caused by leaking underground fuel tanks at some 800 locations around the state.

The contaminated sites targeted for cleanup with the federal funds are mostly small, Tablada said, but have not been remediated yet because those responsible for the leaks cannot be found. Any wells fouled by the leaks have been equipped with filters or replaced by public water hookups, so no one is drinking contaminated water, the official said.

"None of them is like ExxonMobil in Jacksonville," Tablada said, referring to the state's largest underground gasoline leak, discovered three years ago at a service station in Baltimore County. State officials hope to be able to complete work on all these sites in the next two years, whereas the Jacksonville cleanup has been estimated to take another five to seven years. It has cost the oil company $38 million for cleanup, plus $4 million in fines and a $150 million civil verdict recently announced. Estimated costs for dealing with the new sites range from $3,000 for some well sampling to $200,000 to find and take care of an unknown source of contamination.

The funds, announced last week by EPA, are part of $197 million being distributed nationwide to deal with underground fuel leaks. The money is part of the economic stimulus spending bill passed by Congress.

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