Homeowners Sue Over Dumping of Chemicals

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2007

When Gayle Queen put her cream-colored house near Crofton on the market, she was weighing offers as high as $750,000. Then came news reports about wells in her neighborhood contaminated with dangerous chemicals leaking from a dump site used by an energy company. Just like that, the offers on Queen's home vanished.

Queen and a group of lawyers announced yesterday that they have filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of residents in Gambrills and Crofton against Constellation Energy Group of Baltimore. The lawsuit claims that Constellation knew for years that the fly ash it was dumping in Gambrills was contaminating the water of nearby homeowners, but failed to warn them.

"We are asking them to do the right thing," said Wayne K. Curry, a former Prince George's county executive and partner in the Murphy Firm of Baltimore, which filed the lawsuit. "Even now, no one knows the extent to which the contamination has affected these people and their property."

Constellation representatives said they could not comment on the lawsuit. "But we take our responsibility related to the environment and particularly to communities we operate in very seriously," spokesman Robert Gould said.

The company began dumping fly ash at least two sites in 1995. One of the sites is next to Brickhead Road and another along Waugh Chapel Road.

To date, about 4.5 million tons of fly ash have been buried at the sites. Since the contamination was made public more than a year ago, Constellation has been under public pressure to clean up the groundwater, which was found to contain arsenic and other metals.

For about a year, Constellation bought bottled water for about a dozen residents closest to one of the dump sites. Still, residents said they were worried about the years they spent drinking the contaminated water.

Queen, who said her husband died of renal failure last year, pointed to several houses along the road where friends and relatives recently died of cancer and other ailments. "We're not sure yet if it's related to the water," she said. "I'll tell you this: My husband went to the health center one day for dialysis and never came home."

Queen is the individual named in the lawsuit, but lawyers from the Murphy Firm say they were representing several others. The initial scope of the suit could include more than 5,000 Crofton and Gambrills residents.

At least two other resident groups are pursuing separate suits with their own lawyers, including one group that lives closest to the dump and had some of the highest levels of contamination in their wells.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday seeks court-ordered testing and restoration of clean air, water and soil; medical monitoring; and compensation for declining property values, personal injuries and property damage. No dollar amount has been specified because the full extent of the contamination is not clear, managing partner William "Hassan" Murphy III said.

Not named in the suit was BBSS Inc., owner of an 80-acre site where constellation was dumping its fly ash. Lawyers said that may change as the lawsuit proceeds.

The suit is Curry's first foray back into litigation since leaving Prince George's politics. "This case has the same feeling of service as when I was county executive," he said. "It's advocating for people who would otherwise be forgotten."

Constellation has 30 days to respond to the suit, after which it goes to Baltimore Circuit Court, where a judge would have to certify its status as a class-action suit rather than a civil law case.

Constellation said that it is working with Maryland officials to fulfill an order to come up with a plan to clean up the groundwater.

This fall, the firm stopped dumping fly ash at the Gambrills site. It now sends its truckloads to Virginia dumpsites. In recent months, environmental officials said they are looking into new rules to regulate fly-ash dumping in Maryland.

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