MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So sometimes we can choose whether to participate in a risky behavior like drag racing, for instance. But then there are the times we don’t have a choice. I mean, with some risks, we can't really see them or avoid them, at least not at first. Take what happened in the Dundalk neighborhood of Baltimore where people spent years and years tossing all kinds of hazardous waste into the Sauer Dump. At the time, barely anyone realized the consequences and then those hazardous materials leeched into the back river. That's just one of the reasons local fisherman such as Joe Deuschle (sp?) are cautious about consuming what they catch.
MR. JOE DEUSCHLE
I crab out here, you know, a little bit. And I asked if it was safe to eat. They say, yeah, but don't eat the bottom feeders. And then don't eat the fat on the crabs.
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the Sauer Dump, a superfund site. That means federal money will be used in the cleanup. Sabri Ben Achour trucked out to the site with a Maryland environmental official to find out just how bad the problem is and what exactly it'll take to remedy it.
MR. SABRI BEN ACHOUR
So we are in, looks just like a sort of, forested area. There's this chained up fence here.
MR. JIM CARROLL
And I am with Jim Carroll. Jim, why don't you tell me what you do for the Department of Environment.
Certainly, I'm the program manager for the Land Restoration Program.
What happened here?
This site has had historic dumping between 1954, roughly and 1980s. In 1984, in Baltimore county came out, found a lot of surface material that needed to be disposed of. And that's when we discovered hazardous substances were present on the site.
But, I mean, what kind of dumping? Like, who was putting what here? And why?
Everything from concrete and wood debris to drums that had oily liquids in it. Many people reported seeing drums coming -- being brought in by a truck. Those drums turned out to have hazardous substances in them. And then over time there was spills and releases. The main contaminates of concern, the polychlorinated biphenyls is one, lead was another and there are several other metals.
PCB's polychlorinated biphenyls, why do we worry about those? Why are those bad?
Those are very toxic and they are carcinogens.
So how does that affect the community around here? How does that affect wildlife?
For the community, unless you were directly in contact, there's not as much risk unless you were physically out there in the site and ingesting soil or drinking contaminated ground water. As for the wildlife, there is a risk to the wildlife who come in contact with some of the contaminates in the sediment and in the ground water or the soils.
Because I mean, people aren't meant to eat the fish around here are they?
No, there is already fish advisories in place for back river. It's not a prohibition on eating fish but rather advice about when and what types of fish to eat. The fish advisories are not simply because of this site. There are many different sources of contamination throughout the area.
How do you clean up something like this?
The EPA looked at four scenarios. One scenario was simply to remove soils that were contaminated by PCB's. There's a third alternative that would have those soils that are contaminated by PCB's over 10 parts per million removed and then there would be greater emphasis on capping the site and putting in a protective armoring around the shoreline. That's the remedy that the department preferred because it was going to be more protective of public health in the environment.
So they would either, basically, dig up the dirt and incinerate it?
The dirt may be taken to an incinerator somewhere else that's permitted to handle it or it could go to an approved landfill for PCB and lead contaminated wastes.
And tell me about this other option where they would cover the area.
Right, so you remove contaminated soils at some level. And then the EPA would go back in and require that there be a cap. And the cap could be -- have a geotech style membrane fabric and so many feet of clean fill put on top of that fabric. So it serves as a barrier. You want to prevent rainfall from leaching down into the soil. And you also want to keep people from being exposed to what is left behind.
I know that a superfund cleanup is not an overnight process. How long do you think it's going to be before they start cleaning up and how long will it take?
The next step would be for EPA to compile data and then develop the feasibility study and finally prepare a record of decision. That could take two to three years to carry out.
So when all is said and done, how long will it take?
A year or two possibly to...
What should folks that live around here be thinking right now?
I think the important thing is that we need to get the remedy in place because this is a site that we need to get the cleanup done. It's taken a long time to get to a point where we can say, let's move forward and get this cleaned up so it can be returned, that the community can use it again.
All right. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that...
No, thank you.
...coming out here.
That was WAMU's Sabri Ben Achour talking with Jim Carroll of the Maryland Department of the Environment. Do you live near a site with environmental contamination? If so, we want to hear about it. You can reach us at email@example.com.
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