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County Health Officer Ed Singer appears before the Board of Commissioners Nov. 21, 2019.
County Health Officer Ed Singer appears before the Board of Commissioners Nov. 21, 2019. (Mary Grace Keller)

The Carroll County Health Department will be on the lookout for Styrofoam once the statewide ban goes into effect July 1, but the agency will not issue fines for violations.

That duty will be left up to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

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After several county commissioners bashed the impending ban of polystyrene (brand name Styrofoam), the board Thursday agreed to appoint the Health Department as the enforcement agency that will ensure Carroll businesses follow the new law. County Health Officer Ed Singer came to the commissioners to determine whether the Health Department or Department of Land & Resource Management would become the “foam police,” as Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, jokingly titled the job.

The law requires county governments to appoint local health departments or local environmental departments to handle enforcement, according to Singer. He suggested the commissioners allow the Health Department to take this on, considering that health inspectors visit food service facilities anyway.

“It just makes the most sense since we’re already inspecting these facilities,” Singer said. “It is not going to take anybody additional resources to go out there. The only thing we’re going to have to do is come up with some form letters and meet the requirements and notification and whatnot in this law.”

Local jurisdictions may impose a $250 fine for violations, according to Singer, but he did not propose that the county issue fines.

However, in order to comply with state law, a local agency appointed by the county must inspect for Styrofoam, notify a business if it is in violation, and notify MDE of violations, according to Singer. He suggested leaving the fining up to MDE.

“The way that I see it, that makes it MDE’s responsibility, if they want to take enforcement action, for them deal with it," Singer said. "Somebody’s got to be involved as the unit of county government because the state legislature put that responsibility on the local jurisdiction.”

Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, told Singer he had a “fundamental problem” with devoting county resources toward inspecting for Styrofoam.

“We just had a conversation about Naloxone, and about a very significant concern in our community," Rothstein said. “I am not open to putting more resources toward something that I don’t believe is as significant as something that’s right in our face. You sat there for 30 minutes trying to convince us to spend ten thousand bucks on one thing and now you want us to agree with you to put any resources towards this enforcement. I don’t like this.”

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, reminded Rothstein the ban is a state mandate, though Wantz was not happy about it either.

“I will continue to say that this is absurd,” Wantz said. “It’s an extremely small fix to the overall environmental issue here.”

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-3, supported Singer’s suggestion.

“You’re already in these facilities, you’re there to inspect anyway ... the manpower is already out there,” Frazier said.

Wantz objected, saying small businesses don’t need one more thing to worry about.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, asked what’s going to happen to churches that have thousands of Styrofoam containers they bought in advance. Wantz mentioned fire departments.

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Singer said facilities may apply to MDE for waivers to get a year-long extension to use Styrofoam products they already have in supply.

As some of the commissioners’ frustrations rose, Singer reminded them not to shoot the messenger.

“Commissioners, I’m not here advocating for whether this law’s the right thing or not the right thing,” Singer said. “I didn’t adopt it. The Maryland state legislature adopted it. I’m just trying to figure out how we can best deal with this.”

Wantz said it would not be “right” for restaurants to fail health inspections if they have Styrofoam. Singer said Styrofoam will not affect health inspection scores. The Health Department will, however, report violations to MDE, he said.

Weaver said he will go “ballistic” the first time a facility gets shut down for having Styrofoam.

The Health Department has been and will continuing to spread awareness to food services facilities of the impending foam ban, according to Singer.

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