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Union calls for independent review of Harbor Point toxins

Union organizers called on the developers of the Harbor Point site to submit to an outside environmental review, staging a small demonstration Saturday with a pair of workers dressed in hazmat suit costumes.

Morgan Webb Battista, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union, pointed to questions the Environmental Protection Agency raised Friday about the Beatty Development Group's plan to deal with contamination at the former chromium ore processing site. The union members are calling for an independent review apart from government oversight already in place.

"When you're talking about potentially toxic chemicals … it's an important matter," Battista said.

A cap of soil, gravel and plastic is buried under Harbor Point to keep chemicals left behind after the chromium plant closed in the 1980s from leaching into the air and water. To construct the condos and offices planned for the site, builders have to pierce that layer of protection to drive pilings.

Beatty has said it has a comprehensive plan for how to breach the cap safely and monitor the effects on the surrounding area. A spokesman for the developer couldn't immediately be reached to comment Saturday.

The EPA and Maryland Department of the Environment requested some changes to Beatty's plan in a report Friday. The regulators characterized the fixes as mostly routine, but work cannot begin until they are satisfied.

Union members, however, are not convinced.

"I don't know what's coming out," said Frances Smith, a cleaner at the T. Rowe Price building on East Pratt Street. She said she has family who live in the area, and she worries about possible exposure to chemicals.

Smith wore a pair of white overalls and a handyman's face mask and waved a sign calling for action as passersby headed into the Greek Festival on Preston Street and Maryland Avenue.

As of Saturday afternoon, more than 570 people had signed an online petition calling for an independent review, according to the petition web page.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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