A Washington man who owns a Prince George's County gravel pit is serving 179 days in jail and paying $500 a day in fines, after a circuit court judge found that he had failed to clear hazardous waste from his property.
Judge Joseph A. Mattingly Jr. Thursday imposed the sentence on Edward E. Thomas, of Portland Street SE, for failure to comply with an April 1984 court order that he stop illegal dumping at his gravel pit at the intersection of Old Fort and Livingston roads in Fort Washington and, within six months, clear up the waste, install wells to monitor toxins, and implement a sediment control plan.
State officials said Thomas, being held at the county jail, is the first man imprisoned by a Maryland judge for failing to obey a court-ordered cleanup of hazardous waste.
State officials had sued Thomas after discovering capacitors had been dumped at the gravel pit and were leaking PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), highly toxic, carcinogenic chemicals formerly used in some electrical equipment.
Although no evidence of contamination was found in nearby areas or water, state health officials said they believed the dump site posed a potential health hazard. Last week, state officials returned to court saying Thomas had done nothing to clean up the site.
James J. Lyko, an assistant Maryland Attorney General, said, "If there had been some demonstrable good faith effort to begin complying with the cleanup order then both the department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the judge would have looked at it differently."
Thomas' attorney, Ronald Hill, said he and his client are desperately trying to raise the money needed for an engineering survey for the sediment control plan they must have before they can start excavating to clear the waste.
He described his client as a humble businessman with no ability to tackle the cleanup or pay the fines he is accumulating. "He hasn't gotten any help from the federal Environmental Protection Agency or the state," Hill said. "All they want to do is put him in jail . . . .
"Evidently the court thinks Mr. Thomas has reaped great economic benefit as a result of the dumping, and therefore he should have the economic resources to clean it up and comply with the court's order," Hill said. But Thomas and his wife made about $10,000 last year, Hill said, and Thomas has been hampered by an arthritic hip that prevents him from working full time.
Lyko said Thomas' case "sends out a message."
"The message is that people tempted to not take seriously the requirements of Maryland's environmental laws are going to have to think twice."