Environmentalists plan suit over Mirant Brandywine landfill

"We know that it's getting into the groundwater," Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman says of toxic waste at the Brandywine landfill behind him. His group is planning to sue the landfill's operator.
"We know that it's getting into the groundwater," Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman says of toxic waste at the Brandywine landfill behind him. His group is planning to sue the landfill's operator. (Zoe Tillman/the Gazette)

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By Zoe Tillman
The Gazette
Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pollutant levels exceeding water-quality standards have been reported in groundwater around Brandywine in recent years, and a coalition of environmentalists claims the discharge from a landfill is to blame.

Accusing the landfill managers -- power company Mirant Mid-Atlantic and Mirant MD Ash Management of Atlanta -- of failing to prevent the slow discharge of toxic pollutants from the Brandywine Coal Combustion Waste Landfill, the coalition has notified Mirant that it plans to sue under the federal Clean Water Act.

A notice of the intent to file suit, issued Nov. 19, cites reports from the Maryland Department of the Environment that high levels of cadmium, iron, aluminum and other waste products were found in groundwater beneath the landfill.

The notice alleges these pollutants not only pose a risk to the wildlife and ecosystem of nearby Mattaponi Creek and the waterways it feeds but also could contaminate wells and lead to health problems in nearby communities.

The environmentalists add that they have no documented proof of effects of alleged seepage on the environment or the human population.

Mirant spokeswoman Misty Allen said the company has always followed the guidelines set up in its discharge permits. She declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations, citing the pending legal action.

The company has until Jan. 19, 60 days after the notice was filed, to appease the coalition or face a lawsuit under the guidelines of the Clean Water Act, a 1972 federal statute designed to protect waterways from pollution.

"The state conducted its own report that actually discloses that there's a contamination problem at this site," said Fred Tutman of Patuxent Riverkeeper, one of the four parties threatening legal action against Mirant. "We know that it's getting into the groundwater."

Patuxent Riverkeeper has teamed up with environmental groups Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Attorneys from the District-based Environmental Integrity Project and the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Maryland School of Law intend to act as co-counsels for the coalition.

Lawyer Jennifer Peterson of the Environmental Integrity Project said the coalition's goals are testing to determine the extent of any discharge and its effects, a full cleanup of pollutants and a change in Mirant's practices to prevent future discharge.

If Mirant is found in violation of the Clean Water Act, it could also face financial penalties, Peterson said.

The landfill, which covers several hundred acres, was built in 1971, and Mirant purchased it in 2000, Allen said.


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