The 100-foot-high hill rises above the tree line hugging Bear Creek, and neighbors on the far shore have complained of odors and dust. Becker said the company has taken steps to limit the odors, which he said probably resulted from disposal of old oil. It has also acted to minimize erosion, terracing the landfill's slopes and covering the horizontal "steps" with plastic to ward off rainfall.
Runoff is channeled now to a large holding pond, but when water levels rise in rainy periods, the impoundment drains into the creek untreated. Becker said the company hasn't tested that discharge to see whether it contains contaminants.
That's a concern for residents like Bill Pribyl, who lives on the creek across from the plant. He called the interim cleanup moves "a really good start,'' though he adds that he believes they should have begun up to a decade earlier. He said he'd like to see the runoff from the landfill collected and run through the mill's wastewater treatment plant.
Residents are torn by Severstal's bid to open a 60-acre landfill beside Greys. The new facility would be lined, but Becker says the company needs to keep using the oldlandfills until the replacement is readied — assuming that plan is approved by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Becker points to other steps Severstal and its predecessors have taken to comply with the 1997 consent order, such as upgrading the mill's wastewater treatment plant and installing new air pollution controls.
But Pribyl, who is not part of the lawsuit, says it is "sad" that the company is disputing its responsibility to sample Bear Creek beyond Sparrows Point's shores for contamination. The company contends that it is not legally liable for anything outside the plant's boundaries as a result of the 2003 bankruptcy sale of the mill. Talks continue with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state over the dispute, which might wind up in court.
Jon Mueller, litigation director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the lack of action to investigate and deal with possible off-site contamination is a key focus of the lawsuit the group filed in concert with the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper and several area residents.
Samples of bottom sediment and water around the Point in the late 1990s found contamination, and more recent testing by private contractors and the Maryland Port Administration found the same.
"There's a diving platform out there, a swimming platform, about 400 feet from where one of the samples was taken in 1997," Mueller said. While most of the contaminants might be buried in sediment on the creek bottom, wading or swimming in such water could stir them up, exposing people.
Pribyl says he won't swim, crab or eat fish caught from his pier out of concern for what's in Bear Creek.
"We all dropped the ball — EPA, MDE, Severstal and all the owners before, and the community," he said.
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