City incinerator fined for air pollution

The owner of the trash incinerator in South Baltimore has paid a $77,500 penalty to the state for failure to control emissions of toxic mercury into the air.

Wheelabrator Baltimore L.P. agreed to pay to settle allegations by the Maryland Department of the Environment and the attorney general's office that its Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems Co. waste-to-energy plant on Russell Street near the stadiums had violated air pollution laws.

According to MDE, the company had reported in 2009 that one of its employees doing routine maintenance had inadvertently shut off power to the system that controls mercury emissions from the incinerator. Then last year, an annual test of its emission controls showed the facility was exceeding its mercury limit.

In both cases, Wheelabrator brought the facility back into compliance the same day the exceedences were discovered, according to MDE. 

Mercury is a toxic air pollutant emitted by incinerators, coal-burning power plants and other industrial facilities. It settles in water, where it can build up in fish tissue. The state has standing advisories to limit or avoid consumption of fish in many of Maryland's fresh-water rivers and lakes because of mercury contamination.

Wheelabrator issued a statement noting that it had reported the violations itself and promptly dealt with them.  "No threat to public health or the environment occurred as a result of the events," according to the statement from Melissa Lohnes of Wheelabrator Technologies Inc.

MDE Secretary Robert M. Summers acknowledged the company's "swift action" to stop the pollution, but said "it is critical for those who emit mercury to ensure controls are maintained at all times."  Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler also issued a statement, saying, "We expect this action will deter others from failing to operate and manage their pollution control equipment properly."

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