BALTIMORE, Maryland – Residents of Gambrills, Maryland whose drinking water wells are polluted with toxic chemicals today filed a class action lawsuit against the state’s largest power company Constellation Power Source Generation, Inc.

The state already recognizes that 34 residential wells have been polluted by two nearby sites in Anne Arundel County where Constellation dumped fly ash, a residue of coal combustion. Fly ash contains trace concentrations of many heavy metals that are known to have adverse health effects.

Constellation began filling old sand and gravel pits owned by BBSS Inc. with fly ash from the Brandon Shores and Wagner coal-fired power plants in 1995.

By 1999 monitoring wells detected signs of contamination in groundwater. To date Constellation has dumped 3.8 million tons of fly ash in the Waugh Chapel and Turner pits. The company stopped dumping there in September 2007.

The class action lawsuit, filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, alleges that Constellation has known that hazardous substances linked to cancer and other serious health effects have been leaking into groundwater from the Waugh Chapel and Turner Pit dump sites in Gambrills since 1999, but that residents received no warning of the discharges into the local aquifer from the defendant.

In addition, the suit accuses Constellation of actively engaging in a “campaign of deception” to mislead neighbors into believing the waste materials do not present a threat to surrounding communities. In fact, potentially cancer-causing contaminants have been detected by regulators in residential well water at three times the regulated safe standard.

“What this $19 billion dollar a year energy giant continues to do to this community is blatantly unconscionable,” said former Prince Georges County Executive Wayne Curry, a member of the Murphy & Falcon legal team representing the residents. “To add insult to injury, they told this community for years that dumping fly ash in an old mine site was actually beneficial.”

“Constellation seems to think these neighbors should be able to get by on bottled water and garden hoses hooked up to fire hydrants, while they constantly worry over their health and watch their property values plummet,” Curry said.

According to a June 2007 report by Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources Maryland Power Plant Research Program, 34 residential wells are contaminated with toxic elements including arsenic, lead and cadmium at levels as high as three times the maximum U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard for safe drinking.

Property owners were alerted to possible problems when Anne Arundel County health officials began testing wells in 2006, nearly seven years after Constellation saw the first signs that the sites were leaking contaminated groundwater.

“I’m terrified of what might happen to me after drinking that well water all these years,” said Gayle Queen of Gambrills who is one of the victims. “I’m afraid to even wash with our well water because of what’s in there. My house is for sale and nobody will buy it like this. I can’t believe they knew the dump was leaking eight years ago but nobody came to tell me.”

In a court supervised consent decree with the Maryland Department of Environment signed in October, Constellation Power Source Generation Inc. and BBSS agreed to pay a $1 million fine and begin a state supervised cleanup of the groundwater. The companies also must pay to have residents permanently hooked up to public water.

BBSS and Constellation have already provided temporary connections to the county water supply for six residences. Under the decree, those homes and 34 other properties will be provided alternate water supplies.

But members of the class action say the consent decree does nothing to address their immediate health care needs and the future medical monitoring they will require, nor does it address the anxiety and suffering or damage to property values.

“By filing this suit, the victims and the Murphy firm legal team form the vanguard of citizens trying to solve a national health and environmental crisis,” said Curry.

“Under-regulated fly ash dumps are scattered throughout the U.S. and many of them are badly polluting groundwater, surface water and the air with contaminated dust at a risk to individuals living near the dump sites. Regulations have failed in so many instances to protect nearby residents, so people must bring suit to protect themselves,” he said.

Curry notes that a clay cap used to seal the fly ash violated state requirements and a pump and treat groundwater recovery system installed in 2004 failed to stop continued contamination.

The two dump sites lie above the deep aquifer that supplies Crofton’s municipal wells, which residents fear may be threatened by future contamination.

In addition, Constellation may face more trouble from the state of Maryland over air pollution from the fly ash dumps.

The class action lawsuit alleges contaminated dust from the site has polluted air and soil. The Maryland Department of the Environment now is investigating citizen’s concerns regarding dust and air pollution and the attorney general says the consent decree from October does not limit the state’s ability to require the correction of any such violations that may exist at the site.

“Companies will not be allowed to endanger the health of our citizens and the environment without being held accountable,” said Attorney General Douglas Gansler. “Working with the Maryland Department of the Environment, we will aggressively enforce the state’s laws so that violators will pay when they pollute our communities.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirms that coal fly ash does not need to be regulated as a hazardous waste.The EPA’s headquarters building in Washington, DC is constructed with concrete containing fly ash.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.