Parkton's Landfill Mess


The Parkton landfill saga continues to take odd twists and turns, a decade after the 217-acre dump in northern Baltimore County was closed.

For several years, Parkton residents living near the landfill have said the facility was leaking contaminants into the local water table. Private tests supported these claims.

Maryland environmental officials say the water is polluted, in part because of the landfill, while the county contends it hasn't found undue contamination in area wells. Yet the federal Environmental RTC Protection Agency determined last year that groundwater near the landfill poses an "increased cancer risk." That's why the EPA asked for -- and is now supervising -- a new series of water tests by the state. If the contamination is deemed serious, the landfill could become eligible for clean-up under the EPA's Superfund program.

This possibility has thrown county officials into a panic. No, their concern isn't for the health of Parkton citizens but for the county's financial liability in case the landfill is found to be a major hazard. The county is even hiring a private lawyer to follow the EPA's steps in this case. Residents view this move, not without justification, as the county's attempt to use every legal trick available to keep the landfill off the Superfund list.

Council Chairman Charles "Dutch" Ruppersberger says monitoring the EPA inquiry is necessary because "I don't have all the confidence in the world in the way the federal government does its business." A year ago, though, Mr. Ruppersberger wrote the EPA director requesting "your assistance in having the [EPA] become actively involved in review of the data on Parkton Landfill." And while the county dismisses charges of water contamination, it is trucking in water to its own paramedics in Parkton for drinking and washing.

County officials' dread of perhaps having to pay up to $30 million to clean the site is understandable. But the county has botched its handling of this situation for years, including a decade ago when it installed a leachate pond instead of tanks, in violation of the state permit for the facility.

Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden boasts about his concern for the well-being of county citizens. Let him prove it by admitting what the EPA and the state have already concluded -- wells in Parkton are contaminated. Tens of millions of dollars is a lot of money, but bonds can be floated to pay that amount over many years, or federal and state sources can be tapped to help with financing. Rather than waste public money on private attorneys and run the risk of citizen lawsuits, the county should own up to its responsibility now and begin cleaning the mess in Parkton.

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