A Harmans lumber company has been ordered to clean up a 14-year-old chemical spill at its Shipley Avenue wood treatment plant and take steps to prevent future contamination.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the owners of Mid-Atlantic Wood Preservers Jan. 29 to hire a contractor, who will design and carry out the clean-up, within 15 days.
"It doesn't necessarily mean they will take shovel to earth," said Evelyn Stein, a spokeswoman for the county Health Department. "But it is an important step."
The order signals the end of years of study by the EPA and negotiations with the Fort McHenry Lumber Co., which owns Mid-Atlantic, and establishes the first timetable for remedial action, Stein said.
Health Department officials discovered the problem at Mid-Atlantic in 1978 after Richard Morehead, a neighboring homeowner, offered them a glass of bright green water from his well.
The water was found to contain high concentrations of copper, chrome and arsenic, carcinogens used in wood preservatives.
The Morehead well quickly was closed off and the neighborhood placed on county water. For the past 14 years, though officials say the risk was small, the threat to neighbors and workers has been from the inhalation ofcontaminated dust.
EPA officials said the cancer risk is less than one in 1,000 to someone exposed to the contaminated dust for 30 years over a 70-year lifetime.
Under the EPA order, Fort McHenry Lumber must excavate and dispose of small amounts of arsenic-laced dirt and pave other areas to prevent contaminated dust from leaving the site, said EPA spokeswoman Amy Barnett.
The company also must take steps to prevent further ground contamination by enlarging and roofing a paved, outdoor drip pad where the treated lumber dries. Barnett said the enlarged pad will allow the company to capture and recycle the excess chemicals.
The company must also monitor ground water to detect any future problems.
Barnett estimated the cost of the clean-up, which must be borne by Fort McHenry Lumber, at $318,000.
Fort McHenry officials confirmed the EPA order yesterday, but had no othercomment.