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Bay Foundation appeals Baltimore steel mill ruling

Wednesday - 5/2/2012, 6:34pm  ET

By ALEX DOMINGUEZ
Associated Press

BALTIMORE - A federal judge's approval of a monitoring agreement between the owners of the Sparrows Point steel plant and environmental regulators is being appealed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the environmental group announced Wednesday.

In March, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz approved the agreement between RG Steel and federal and state regulators. Under the agreement, which followed a lengthy dispute over monitoring for toxic contaminants at the mill outside Baltimore, the company is required to sample sediments no more than 50 feet offshore. Environmentalists have argued contaminants have been found much further offshore.

The foundation said it was seeking a much more comprehensive assessment in Bear Creek and the Patapsco River near the hulking Baltimore County mill.

"All existing evidence indicates a broad belt of toxic pollution around the steel plant extending hundreds of feet into Bear Creek. The neighbors of the plant have the right to know what is in the water where they swim, crab and fish," said Kim Coble, vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "We can't accommodate polluters at the expense of the public."

The bay foundation said that as recently as December, tests it contracted to be performed by the University of Maryland's Wye Research Laboratory found sediment 1,000 feet off shore from the plant was fatally toxic to bottom-dwelling organisms.

RG Steel spokeswoman Bette Kovach said the company would not comment because the matter is in litigation. A spokesman from the federal Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement that the agency had no comment as it was reviewing the appeal notice.

The Maryland Department of the Environment issued a statement saying the current plan could lead to further sampling.

"MDE's and EPA's teams of toxicologists, geologists and engineers are in complete agreement that the court approved off-site sampling plan will achieve its goal. The goal is to develop a final human health and ecological assessment which will then lead to the development of a clean-up plan," the statement said. "If there is reason to believe that a plume extends beyond 50 feet, the agencies would direct RG Steel to conduct additional sampling."

The federal judge ruled last year that a prior owner wasn't responsible for pollution that occurred before Bethlehem Steel's 2003 bankruptcy sale of the mill, but current owners could be required to study offshore pollution.


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