Maryland on Wednesday notified the owner of the Luke paper mill in Allegany County that it is filing a federal lawsuit over Potomac River contamination.
The move ramps up the state’s enforcement of a leak of black sludge from the mill that was first spotted by a fisherman nearly a year ago, about a month before owner Verso Co. announced its closure. State officials filed a lawsuit over the water pollution in Allegany circuit court in December, but they said taking the matter to federal court would allow them to address other potential impacts, as well, including possible soil contamination.
The state is seeking to stop the discharge and require cleanup under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
“Maryland is taking this necessary step to protect public health and the Potomac River with the hope that it will accelerate the beneficial and productive reuse of the site,” state Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said in a statement. “We cannot allow continued seepage into the river that puts our communities and ecosystems at risk.”
Shawn Hall, a spokesman for Ohio-based Verso, said the company “remains committed to responsible environmental stewardship and compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements.”
The contamination is thought to include black liquor, a byproduct of the paper pulping process that was also burned to help power the mill. Authorities said the site is also likely leaking white liquor and green liquor, two other substances created and used during the process.
Black liquor for years qualified the mill for state subsidies created to promote development of renewable energy sources, something environmentalists have criticized and fought to change in state law. Legislation the General Assembly is considering this year would end that outlay of money, collected through Marylanders’ gas and electric bills.