An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge today issued an order clearing the way for the transfer of more than 30,000 gallons of cancer-causing chemicals from a small Eastern Shore tank farm to a U.S. storage facility at Curtis bay, just south of Baltimore.
If Judge Morris Turk's order survives a planned appeal by county officials, it will resolve the last of many disputes between local, state and federal officials that have prevented the removal of the PCB laden waste oils from a collection of small, rusting tanks alongside the Nanticoke River in Sharptown.
The transfer of the highly toxic chemicals, arranged by the Coast Guard after protracted negotiations this fall, was delayed in mid-December when the Anne Arundel County Council passed two ordinances giving the county control over the transport and storage of hazardous materials within its boundries.
A month earlier, County Executive Robert A. Pascal had filed suit to prevent the storage of the materials at Curtis Bay, contending that the health of citizens in the populous area around the site would be endangered.
Turk's order today both rejected Pascal's request for an injunction and temporarily barred Anne Arundel Country from enforcing its ordinances. Coast Guard Capt. J. William Kime said today that preliminary operations to remove the chemicals are scheduled to start Monday.
Anne Arundel Country Solicitor Richard L. Hillman said this afternoon that his office plans to ask the Court of Special Appeals to stay Turk's order and block the planned shipment of the chemicals until an appeal can be heard.
In his 30-page opinion, Turk said that "the alternative to his decision would be to stand idly by in the face of a precipitously dangerous situtation which very likely could results in permanent, irreparable damage."
Citing testimony given during a court hearing two weeks ago by Kime and Philip Retallick, a scientist with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Turk concluded that "the storage at Curtis Bay facility far out-weighs the storage at Sharpton with regard to approved storage, method of storage, safety of storage, security and danger to the public in general."
Under federal regulations, PCB's -- an abbreviation of the chemical name Polychlorinated Biphenyl's -- are considered hazardous if they comprise more than 50 parts per million of a solution. Until recent years, the heat-resistant chemicals were frequently used in high-temperature manufacturing devices such as electrical transformers.
When federal scientist tested the contents of the 37 storage tanks at the abandoned tank farm in the small community of Sharptown, they discovered that eight tanks contained waste oil laced with hazardous levels of the chemical, while another six tanks contained oil diluted with the highly flammable solvent xylene.
Even before the tests were conducted, the Coast Guard turned off all the tanks' valves and checked the 30-year-old storage tanks to try and reduce the possibility of a fire or a spill that could pollute the nearby Nanticoke River, a prime spawning ground for rockfish.
However, federal officials agreed that the tanks fell far short of meeting U.S. standards for the storage of PCB's and they started a search for a more secure facility.
Five potential storage sites were examined before Coast Guard officials decided on the Curtis Bay facility, which is operated by the General Services Administration. However, while the Coast Guard was contracting with Rollins Environmental Services to transfer the chemicals, Pascal and other county officials started their efforts to block the transfer.
When Pascal filed suit to stop the state and federal moves, he said he did not want his county to be the dumping ground for anyone.
"Everybody's been putting barricades in front of us, and we've been going over them one by one," Sharptown Mayor Ralph Cordrey said today, expressing relief at the court decision. "The only barricade I'm at all concerned about now is an appeal."
Cordrey and an official from Rollins, the disposal service, were touring the tank farm today when they received word of the judge's decision. Cordrey and the Coast guard's Capt. Kime both said that the disposal operations -- expected to cost the federal government $15,000 -- are set to begin next week, with first of the 800 barrels of chemicals being sent to Curtis Bay the following week.
Eventually, the hazardous PCB-laden oil will be incinerated when special facilities for the purpose have passed Federal Testing requirements, officials say.
It has not been established how the chemicals found their way into the tank farm, which was set up in Sharptown about 12 years ago by a man named William R. Grigsby. At the time, Grisby told town officials he was opening a waste oil reprocessing firm that would provide great benefit to the economy in a small town of 670 people.
Grisby, who had denied responsibility for dumping the dangerous materials in Sharptown, is scheduled to go to trial in Wicomico County on May 12 on charges of violating state laws governing the storage of hazardous substances.