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Towson State oil cleanup cost climbs State is asked for more money


ANNAPOLIS -- The state of Maryland has been forced to dig 14 wells and spend nearly $200,000 to clean up 3,800 gallons of heating oil that overflowed a storage tank at Towson State University in June 1990.

State officials say no drinking water has been contaminated and the oil spill so far has been contained essentially in the area where it spilled.

But university officials were back before the Board of Public Works yesterday for the fifth time since the spill to ask for more money.

The latest $74,112 installment -- which brought the total spent to date to $196,332 -- is to dig three new recovery wells in the field behind the Towson Center, the university's athletic arena. Once they are dug, the site will be dotted with 14 wells -- four of them equipped with pumps to bring contaminated ground water to the surface, and the other 10 to monitor the gradual spread of the spill underground.

Richard W. Collins, director of the Hazardous and Solid Waste Management Administration of the state Department of the Environment, said the oil has been moving toward a nearby creek that feeds into Lake Roland, but has not yet spread that far.

Because of dry conditions last summer and because the soil around the tanks is mostly fill material, it is loosely compacted and the oil is spreading faster than otherwise would be expected, he said.

"But this is not a major environmental catastrophe," he said.

About 1,600 gallons of oil was picked up immediately after the spill, but pumps in the recovery well have been able to bring up only another 160 gallons, Mr. Collins said. The entire 3,800 gallons will never be recovered, he said, because some of the spilled oil will vaporize and some will bond with the soil.

The cost of cleaning up the spill has been inexpensive compared with the costs of cleaning up some spills elsewhere, he said, although both Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein disputed that notion yesterday.

"I've got an impression you're going to come back again for more money [in the future]," Governor Schaefer predicted.

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