Calling a plan to create a toxic waste site "nefarious," Rep. Gladys Spellman (D-Md.) of Laurel has joined local and state officials in an attempt to block the dumping of chromium ore southwest of Laurel.
A New York-based firm, Disposal Management Inc., is seeking a state permit for a chromium treatment facility along Old Gunpowder Road and a permanent storage site in sand and gravel pits near the junctions of Contee and Van Dusen roads.
The chromium, which would be mixed with residue from from other potentially toxic metals, would be trucked to the area from the Allied Chemical Corp. chromium plant in Baltimore.
In a letter to Gov. Harry Hughes, Spellman said she was "alarmed" to learn of the proposal.
"For years this section of Prince George's County has been the butt of nefarious plans to unload noxious substances of one kind of another," Spellman said in her letter. ". . . the idea of adding even one more plant to process waste of any kind, let alone a dangerous toxic substance, in this same general area is shocking and totally unacceptable."
Spellman also has sent a request to the Environmental Protection Agency for a federal investigation of the dangers that could be posed by locating the dump near Laurel and has asked Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan to aid efforts to halt plans for the dump site.
Democratic State Sen. Arthur Dorman of Beltsville issued a statement, with other state legislators from Prince George's, protesting the siting of the proposed facilities.
"This is a horrible proposal," Dorman said. "It makes no sense at all to me . . . Why should Baltimore gain the benefits from employment and taxation from the plant and then have the right to ship their wastes to Prince George's County?"
The Prince George's County Council agreed at this week's meeting to send a letter to the Maryland Environmental Service stating its unanimous opposition to the proposed dump site.
"We wish to formally indicate our strong opposition to siting this proposed facility in the area under consideration," said the letter, which was drafted and presented to the council by member Frank Casula. "It is hard to imagine a more inappropriate site for hazardous waste processing."
The letter said the waste storage site is atop the aquifer -- the underground layer of porous rock that contains water -- that provides the groundwater supply of Prince George's, Anne Arundel, Charles and Calvert counties.
"An accident at the proposed facility could be an environmental disaster for hundreds of thousands of Marylanders in the four counties," the letter continued. "In spite of all possible engineering precautions that the designers of the facility may provide, no one really believes in the concept of 'fail-safe' technology any more."
The waste processing and storage plan by Disposal Management Inc. could result in the loss of a lucrative contract for the disposal of Allied Chemical's chromium wastes by Browning-Ferris, the operators of the so-called Solley Road landfill dump in Anne Arundel County. That site is nearing capacity and as a result has been beset with environmental problems.
Spellman, Dorman and Casula -- as well as other legislators and county officials in Price George's -- have fielded more than 150 calls since the proposal was revealed last week in an article in The Maryland Weekly.
Disposal Management must meet rigorous safety standards required by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources before it can obtain a state permit. Then the firm must obtain a county permit.
Mary Anne Updike, vice president of the Gunpowder Road Community Association, said she has lived on Old Gunpowder Road for 19 years with her husband Mike, and her son Carl, and plans to fight the dump site proposal.
"Every community association and civic group in this area is up in arms against this proposal," she said. "We've been on the phone to anyone we thought could help us shut down this stupid idea."
The group, and the West Laurel Civic Association, plan protest letter-writing campaigns to local officials, said their representatives.
James Payne, vice president of Contee Sand & Gravel Co., owners of the Old Gunpowder and Van Duesen roads properties, has given Disposal Management permission to conduct the preliminary work at the site, according to documents submitted to state officials by Disposal management.
Ronald Metovik, a Contee executive, said the firm would ask to be assured there would be no danger of ground-water contamination before entering a lease with Disposal Management.
"Right now, there is no lease," he siad. "So officially all I can say is no comment until the proposal is offered to us, and we accept or reject it."
Officials of Disposal Management, which has opened a Laurel office, could not be reached for comment.
Two and a half years ago, a groundwater hydrologist working with the U.S. Geological Survey, told the Prince George's County Council that a sludge composition site then proposed for the area might contaminate the groundwater.
Dorman, Updike and an aide to Spellman all referred to this as an earlier study showing dangers that might be associated with creating any kind of dump site in the area.
"I propose that the whole area of the Lower Patuxent formation, which parallels the Prince George's-Montgomery county line, is a natural resource which cannot be ignored and must be protected," said hydrologist Melvin H. Podwysocki, in his report at the time. "It should not be polluted by dumping of potentially harmful waste materials nor should it be covered by sprawling subdivisions, thereby cutting off or polluting the source of groundwater for communities closer to the coast."
Across the road from the treatment facility, stretching about a mile south along Old Gunpowder Road, is a site on which the Prince George's County Park and Planning Division wants to establish a park.
The park has been in the works since the mid-1960s. The county has already acquired almost all of the 151 acres on the Prince George's side of what will become the first Montgomery-Prince George's regional park. Another 271 acres lies across the county line, in Montgomery County.
Robert Arciprete, the chief of planning, design and research for the park division, said the agency is "totally opposed to the toxic dump."
The park development has reached its final three-year phase, and would encompass an area stretching from the Old Gunpowder Country Club southward along the west side of Old Gunpowder Road to Greencastle Road. Two-thirds of the park land planned on the Montgomery County side of the county line already has been acquired. When completed, the regional park will cover about 436 acres.