Coast Guard Commandant John B. Hayes yesterday said he has decided to remove thousands of gallons of deadly chemicals from storage at an Eastern Shore tank farm as soon as possible because they present an imminent threat to the environment.
However, neither federal nor state experts in hazardous waste disposal have yet found a site to safely dispose of the chemical PCB now stored along the Nanticoke River in Sharptown, Md.
Hayes said that he made his decision late yesterday after Environmental Protection Administrator Douglas M. Costle expressed concern about the stability of the 39 tanks in which the chemicals are stored.
"He said that . . . the tanks would not conform with the EPA's requirements for PCB storage," Hayes said. ". . . Now the decision has to be made as to where the material will be stored, and that's not a particularly easy decision either."
Hayes' decision to use some of the $20 million National Pollution Fund to pay for removal of the Sharptown chemicals ended six weeks of inconclusive negotiations over which federal or state agency was responsible for the job.
Earlier yesterday, Adm. Thomas Wetmore, who commands the 5th Coast Guard District, had scheduled a meeting for today in an effort to resolve the disagreements between the Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Maryland and the other agencies involved.
In the last week, however, congressional pressure for action had been mounting.
At the urging of Sen. Charles McC Mathias (R-Md.), the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the transportation appropriations bill directing the Coast Guard to use up to $500,000 of its fund to remove the chemicals.
And yesterday, after a regional Coast Guard commander had recommended against using the special fund, Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) appealed to Transportation Secretary Neil Goldschmidt to order the removal.
It is still unclear how more than 31,000 gallons of oil laced with dangerous levels of the cancer-causing agent PCB found their way into the tanks of the defunct waste oil reprocessing plant once run by a firm called Grigco Oil of Maryland Inc.
The presence of the chemicals was discovered after Grigco's owner, William Grigsby, defaulted on a $270,000 loan guaranteed by the federal Small Business Administration.
Just after the SBA sold the tank farm property at auction last March, Grigsby called the Maryland state Water Resources Administration and said the tanks might contain hazardous material.
The Coast Guard, the EPA and the Maryland WRA began tests this summer to determine exactly what was in the tanks. It was not until last week that they found out exactly how much oil laced with PCB, and how many gallons of the highly flammable solvent xylene were in the tanks.