Attorney Peter Angelos said yesterday that Maryland should compel Honeywell International to clean up more than a half-dozen chrome waste dumps around Baltimore's harbor - and said he's willing to fight a legal battle to force the issue.
Angelos, who built a reputation with asbestos and tobacco litigation, is representing the community group Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) in an attempt to require the New Jersey-based manufacturing company to remove chromium beneath the Dundalk Marine Terminal and elsewhere.
"This is a very hazardous situation, which is in need of immediate action," Angelos said. "We believe that there may be other sites where [chrome waste] was disposed, and the state should have a record of them and disclose them immediately."
Cancer-causing residue from an Inner Harbor chrome factory was dumped at several locations around the harbor - including beneath the Harbor Point commercial development site, beside the Middle Branch in South Baltimore, and on the bottom of the Patapsco River - during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The residue was thought harmless and often used as a landfill at construction sites, state officials have said.
On April 5, the Maryland Department of the Environment signed an agreement with Honeywell that gives the company up to 17 years to remove or contain the chromium at the state-owned Dundalk Marine Terminal, where 2,500 people work.
Angelos has filed a motion in Baltimore County Circuit Court asking that the agreement be thrown out so it can be replaced with one that requires Honeywell to take responsibility more quickly for all of the sites around the harbor. No date has been set for a hearing in the case.
Julie Oberg, an MDE spokeswoman, said the agreement addressed only the Dundalk site because it's normal for consent agreements to cover only one location. "To the extent chromium is present at other sites in Maryland, those sites have been or will be handled on a site-specific basis and the responsible parties, including Honeywell, will be expected to participate in the cleanup effort," Oberg said.
In 2003, a federal judge called hexavalent chromium "a more potent human carcinogen than arsenic, benzene and PCBs" and forced Honeywell to spend $400 million excavating the pollutant from a dump site in New Jersey.
Honeywell inherited responsibility for the waste in 1999 when it merged with Allied Signal, an offspring of other companies that ran chrome factories in Jersey City until 1954 and in Baltimore until 1985.
Katherine Adams, a lawyer for Honeywell, said the company generally believes that capping or containing the pollution is safer and less disruptive than digging it up. "Whenever we are informed, we proactively and voluntarily deal with it," Adams said.
Angelos said Maryland has been signing agreements to study and contain chromium at the Dundalk site for about two decades, but that an asphalt cap there hasn't worked, and rainwater washes the cancer-causing chemical into the Patapsco River.
He said it was wrong for the state to agree to pay for 23 percent of any cleanup at the Dundalk site - which could mean $100 million or more for state taxpayers - when Honeywell is covering all of the costs in Jersey City.
Kevin Enright, spokesman for the Maryland attorney general's office, said the state agreed to pay some of the costs because it allowed the chrome company to deposit the waste at the marine terminal. The New Jersey site was different, Enright said, because courts determined Honeywell was the only responsible party.