Waste processing firm settles lawsuit Company, state and city agree on $60,000 fine


A South Baltimore industrial waste processing firm has agreed to pay a $60,000 fine to settle a lawsuit in which state and city officials accused the company of water pollution violations, says a lawyer for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Denise Ferguson-Southard, deputy counsel for the state environmental agency, said that Clean Harbors of Baltimore Inc. had reached an "agreement in principle" with state and city officials. The lawsuit was scheduled for a hearing in Baltimore Circuit Court Friday.

Clean Harbors was sued last May by the state and city, which accused the firm of sending wastewater with illegally high levels of organic chemicals, metals and other pollutants from its plant at 1910 Russell St. to the city's Back River sewage treatment plant.

Municipal sewage plants are not equipped to remove such toxic pollutants, so they often pass through untreated into streams and Chesapeake Bay.

Clean Harbors, which treats hazardous and non-hazardous industrial waste, has a permit to discharge to the Back River treatment plant, but the firm is required to "pretreat" its wastewater to remove toxic pollutants.

The suit accused Clean Harbors of 82 violations from January 1989 through last February of the city's pretreatment limits on toxic pollutants including cyanide, lead, mercury, nickel and organic chemicals.

The company denied the violations, contending that the city had approved each discharge for which it was cited.

The plant's wastewater was held in storage tanks until city officials could test each batch and approve its release to the Back River plant. While samples from the tanks apparently passed scrutiny, tests of the wastewater actually discharged showed it exceeded limits.

Details of the settlement remain to be worked out, but the firm has agreed to pay the state $40,000 and the city $20,000 in penalties, Ferguson-Southard said.

Charles R. Taylor Jr., a lawyer for Clean Harbors, confirmed that a tentative settlement had been reached. He said that government officials were proposing changes in the way the firm tests its wastewater before discharging it to the Back River treatment plant.

Clean Harbors, which bought the Russell Street waste processing plant in January 1989 from Chem Clear of Baltimore, has invested $3 million to date in improving its waste-treatment processes, Taylor said. Among other things, a new "parallel" treatment system has been installed to handle organic wastes, he said.

The plant was fined $10,000 for air pollution and hazardous waste violations in 1989 for a leak that released foul-smelling fumes over much of South Baltimore.

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