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Lawsuit: No gambling on toxins

Group seeks cleanup of wastes it says are at casino site in city

A group of environmentalists and Baltimore residents has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking to have stronger monitoring and remediation of what they say is toxic waste on the site of the city’s new casino along Russell Street.

Horseshoe Casino

Construction at the Russell Street site shows the frame of Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino taking shape, even while an environmental and resident group questions the possible hazardous wastes being released during the building activity. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

The lawsuit, filed on Thursday and funded by the nonprofit Inner Harbor Stewardship Foundation, states that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Baltimore Development Corp., CBAC Gaming LLC and Maryland Chemical Co. Inc. have violated the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by failing to “control the sources of environmental contamination at the site of the proposed Horseshoe Casino on the North Shore of the Middle Branch in Baltimore.

“… Past spills and releases of hazardous substances and/or hazardous wastes at the Casino Site (including, but not limited to, chlorinated volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals) have been left unaddressed and/or unremediated and, as a result, are a continuing source of contamination in the soils and groundwater at the casino site,” the lawsuit charges.

“The hazardous substances and/or hazardous wastes at and under the casino site have migrated and are continuing to migrate off-site at levels well above the applicable federal and state cleanup standards, risk-based standards and/or regulatory limits.”

The lawsuit seeks a federal order to “take any and all remedial measures necessary to address and control the contamination at and under” the Horseshoe Casino site and a court order to halt the “handling, treatment, storage, transportation and disposal activities” of the soil at the site. It also seeks to have penalties assessed.

A jury trial has been requested in federal court.

The $400 million casino broke ground in May and much of the skeleton of the building is already standing. The two-story, 330,000-square-foot gaming venue is expected to open in July 2014.

The lawsuit states that neither the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nor the Maryland Department of the Environment has established protocols to prevent toxins from the former industrial site from running off into the Middle Branch and nearby Gwynns Falls Trail or being introduced into the surrounding community while the construction is underway.

Maryland Chemical owned the property from 1952 through 2008, when it sold the land to the city.

Its operations “involved a variety of chlorinated VOCs, metals, acids, bases and other organic and inorganic compounds including, but not limited to, trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, cyclohexane, acetone, methylene chloride, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, nitric acid, sulfuric acid, ammonia and ammonium-containing compounds, manganese and magnesium-containing compounds, pesticide products and chelating agents,” the lawsuit states.

Furthermore, the lawsuit says that in February 2010, the city submitted a remedial action plan to MDE for the site that “proposed removing two feet of soil at four limited ‘target areas’ on the waterfront parcels at the site, which previous samples had identified as containing the highest concentrations of arsenic and PAHs.”

“On or around May 5, 2010, MDE informed Baltimore City that its proposed remedial action plan was ‘inadequate for achieving the stated goal of addressing contaminants in the site’s soils in a manner that will reduce the risk to human health’ because removing ‘four areas of contaminated soils neglects the presence of contaminants in the remainder of the soil covering the site and the potential health impacts associated with them’ and because ‘the approach incorrectly assumes the contaminant conditions at the 5.3-acre (waterfront parcels) have been fully characterized and the hot spots targeted for removal represent the primary areas of environmental concern,’” the lawsuit states.

Timothy Henderson, an Annapolis attorney for the Inner Harbor Stewardship Foundation, said Friday that much of that information was gained through the Maryland Public Information Act.

“This lawsuit is trying to get all those parcels dealt with. It’s a performance-driven lawsuit,” Henderson said. “The correspondence shows that after 2009, it became all about the casino site.”

Baltimore City Solicitor George Nilson said Friday he had not read the lawsuit.

“There’s a baker’s dozen of these proceedings filed,” Nilson said, referring to other pending litigation over the casino site and the environmental concerns raised by advocates and nearby community residents. “We’re defending all of them successfully, and we expect to continue to defend them and eventually the folks on the other side will get tired.”

Nilson also said environmental issues at the budding casino site had been addressed before construction.

“The site has been evaluated, and it’s been determined that no contamination exists to prevent construction. We’re careful about it,” he said. “The building is going up fairly robustly.”