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Environment

Maryland sues recycling company accused of operating ‘open dumps’ in Baltimore, Prince George’s County

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit earlier this month against World Recycling Company, alleging its recycling facilities in Baltimore and Prince George’s County have polluted the environment by illegally storing solid waste, and that the company largely ignored demands from the state to clean up its act.

According to the suit, filed Jan. 10 in Prince George’s County Circuit Court, state environmental inspectors repeatedly found illegally stored piles of trash at both facilities over the last nine years. Often left unsecured, litter and debris were able to enter storm drains and pollute surrounding bodies of water. Inspectors also documented spills of oil and other waste, infestations of rats and flies, and pungent odors.

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The state found that the two facilities were continually operating well outside the scope of their environmental permits — including by accepting non-recyclable materials, construction debris, medical waste and scrap tires — and that certain permits were missing altogether.

Monitoring data from the Baltimore facility, located near Carroll Park adjacent to the Gwynns Falls stream, a Patapsco River tributary, showed stormwater on the site contained elevated levels of copper and suspended solids. Meanwhile, the Prince George’s facility, located in Cheverly, didn’t provide any quarterly testing data as required.

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The state first cited the Cheverly facility in 2014, and the Baltimore facility in 2015, but environmental violations have persisted practically ever since, according to the lawsuit.

In April 2018, World Recycling agreed to a consent order with the state, which required it to complete a number of corrective actions and submit various plans for litter control, stormwater management and solid waste storage. But many of the deadlines weren’t met and many of the submitted plans were considered deficient by the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Jeffrey S. Miller, listed as the owner of World Recycling Company and several related entities mentioned in the suit, did not respond immediately Tuesday to a request for comment.

In its suit, the attorney general’s office asked for hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties to be levied against World Recycling.

Under the 2018 consent order, the state was allowed to charge World Recycling a penalty of $100 per day for late or uncompleted work. The steps in the consent order were supposed to be completed in January 2019. The state also can charge separate penalties, as high as $10,000 a day, for environmental violations.

In addition, the state argues that it is still owed 75% of a $45,000 penalty World Recycling agreed to pay under the 2018 consent order. The company paid the initial 25% of the fine, but hasn’t paid the rest, which originally was held in abeyance, despite a demand from the state.

The state also is asking the court to require World Recycling to stop accepting new waste until it cleans up the solid waste at its two facilities, and to stop accepting waste it isn’t allowed to be processing.

The lengthy complaint also mentions that the Cheverly facility was accepting trash from area Metro stations on a “daily basis” in 2019, according to a state environmental inspector. During an inspection, the inspector observed a “Metro” truck dumping trash directly into a container on-site, an activity that wasn’t allowed under World Recycling’s permit, according to the complaint.

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The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority declined to answer questions Tuesday about whether it continues to work with World Recycling, citing the pending litigation.

In a statement, Attorney General Anthony Brown, who was sworn in earlier this month, said the suit was filed to force World Recycling to “remedy the disaster they created, and make sure they are fully compliant with the law going forward.”

“World Recycling Company created an environmental hazard by operating open dumps of solid waste, violating Maryland’s environmental laws and, given the locations of the two facilities, disproportionately affecting overburdened communities and communities of color,” Brown wrote. “It needs to be held accountable.”

In a statement, the Chesapeake Legal Alliance, a local nonprofit that provides legal assistance in environmental cases, applauded Brown’s filing of the case.

“For many years, the number of enforcement actions brought by the state has been in decline. We’re very pleased to see the Attorney General taking this step today to hold polluters accountable, and we hope this is a signal that the new Administration will be ushering in a return of enforcing our environmental safeguards through the state,” wrote Angela Haren, a senior attorney at the Legal Alliance.

The Legal Alliance is representing local environmental nonprofit Blue Water Baltimore in several cases involving pollution in the city, including suits against the city for failures at its wastewater treatment plants and against Fleischmann’s Vinegar Co.


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