Stopped short inside the door of her mother-in-law's home, Pamela Wilson caught a whiff of a strong chemical odor and shivered.
The smell brought back the day three years ago when she and 16 other families had to evacuate their homes because an industrial solvent leaked into the sewer system. Long after the cleanup, the neighborhood worried about another chemical spill at Kanasco Inc., the Brooklyn Park pharmaceutical company blamed for the 1988 leak.
Two weeks ago, Wilson's fears came true.
The sickening odor she noticed at her mother-in-law's home, across the street from her ownhouse on Cherry Avenue, was identified as fumes from another chemical spill.
County utilities workers sealed off Kanasco's main wastewater line after they discovered a milky liquid flowing into the public sewers. The liquid contained traces of methylene chloride, the sametoxic solvent that spilled in 1988, sending 10 Ferndale families to the hospital.
Kanasco officials had not responded by Friday to an emergency notice asking them to explain the June 23 leak, said Jody Vollmar, spokeswoman for the Department of Utilities.
Brooklyn Parkresidents complained that the spill was the seventh in the last three months.
The utilities department plans to fine Kanasco up to $1,000 for each identified spill and also charge the cost of plugging upthe sewer line, Vollmar said.
Most sewer service will remain cut off until the company develops an appropriate cleanup plan.
Meanwhile, the state Attorney General's Office is investigating the latest spill to determine whether criminal charges can be brought against Kanasco.
The attorney general's environmental crimes unit also mounted a criminal investigation following the 1988 spill.
But after a two-year study, the department decided it lacked enough evidence to file charges, said Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Volz.
"We determined then that there was insufficient evidence to prove that anyintentional conduct caused the discharge," she said.
Kanasco officials could not be reached to comment on the spills. The company, which produces up to 75 tons of penicillin a year, has a 17-year historyof dumping violations at its plant on Robinwood Road.
Many nearbyresidents are afraid that track record will continue unchecked. Theyare organizing an Aug. 1 meeting with state environmental officials and area politicians to discuss the threat of more spills.
"I'm telling you, would you want to live in that environment?" said Evelyn Lee, who lives behind the 11-acre plant in Arundel Gardens. "I just want this stopped."
Lee, president of the civic association, complained that strong chemical odors often waft through the neighborhood. Fed up with the stench and series of spills, Lee has vowed to "try to shut (the company) down."
Many residents who live near the plant say the harsh chemical smells make them dizzy and nauseated. Some are so worried by the latest spill that they are visiting their doctors. Kim Talbott, who lives on Holy Cross Road, said she is taking her sonin for a physical because he suffered a seven-week bout of diarrhea.She complained that she also has felt faint in the past weeks.
Wilson is grateful that she and her husband survived the 1988 spill unharmed. Only one street away, neighbors were found unconscious in their homes because fumes crept through the plumbing.
But she's afraidthat the same thing easily could happen again.
"I just can't believe that there can't be something done to prevent these people from doing this to us," she said. "It just gets really frustrating when it keeps on occurring."
Area politicians are equally fed up that Brooklyn Park continues to be a favorite illegal dumping ground. Built inthe shadow of Baltimore's smokestacks, the northern tip of Anne Arundel County has been the site of "too many toxic waste spills," said state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park.
Jimeno and other county officials met last week with a federal toxic waste cleanup crew atDrumco Inc., a 14-acre storage yard littered with hundreds of drums containing hazardous waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began cleaning up the first of an estimated 400 barrels containing toxic, flammable or corrosive liquids. The storage yard is less than a mile east of Brooklyn Park's residential areas.
"I've had enough of this," said Jimeno, who pointed out that the Drumco site is the latest in a series of EPA cleanups in Brooklyn Park.
"I think myself and the citizens here are getting sick and tired of spending our entire time at landfills and toxic waste spills," he added. "I want maximum sanctions taken against every one of the people who are violating the (environmental) laws."
Delegate Joan Cadden, a Brooklyn Park activist, said she's equally frustrated by the dumping. She wants to press Baltimore's City Council to strengthen zoning laws in the CurtisBay area.
"I think we're surrounded by areas that are allowed to dump," she said. "All these spills must have something to do with thehealth problems that people in the area are experiencing. I want to get as much of this area cleaned up as possible before it gets any worse."