MDE Issues Two Local Violation Notices

OCEAN CITY — Two separate entities were cited last week by state environmental officials for allegedly allowing harmful toxins to enter the coastal bays.

The Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) this week announced Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips recently discovered two pollution threats to the coastal bays while on routine patrol in the watershed including one at a West Ocean City outlet complex and another at a north Ocean City condominium.

The first incident occurred on April 28 when Phillips noticed workers for Premier Exteriors, a contractor working on the Tanger Outlets in the White Marlin Mall in West Ocean City, handling expanded polystyrene (EPS) in an environmentally unsafe manner, causing air pollution and possible water pollution by the toxic chemical styrene, a byproduct of the use of polystyrene foam. According to Phillips’ report, a cloud of polystyrene dust was blowing in the wind and depositing drifts of “snow” in the parking lots, on landscaped areas and on parked cars.

“The federal government recently declared styrene to be a likely carcinogen and this chemical compound is found in the polystyrene foam the contractor was sawing and cutting up,” said Phillips. “EPA and state regulations require contractors to use vacuum equipment and tarps to contain the litter and prevent it from polluting the air or getting into stormwater runoff and none of these best management practices were being used.”

With a significant rainfall event forecast for the night of April 28, the potential existed for the contaminant to be carried off the parking lots and ultimately into the Isle of Wight Bay, forcing Phillips to submit photographs and other information about the potential threat to MDE Compliance and the EPA Region III Compliance and Enforcement Department. As a result, the MDE Air Management Division inspected the site on May 2 and issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) to the contractor.

A second inspection by MDE on May 4 revealed little had been done to address the threat, resulting in a second NOV for the contractor and a first NOV issued to the Tanger Outlets management.

ACT is urging MDE to issue maximum fines for air pollution and a penalty for allowing polystyrene to possibly pollute Isle of Wight Bay.

“Exterior finish contractors work with polystyrene foam all the time in Ocean City yet are seldom issued fines when they ignore environmental regulations,” said Phillips. “A contractor who breaks the law should be hit with a substantial fine for polluting, an amount that will be more than just the cost of doing business.”

Tanger Outlet Centers Director of Public Relations and Communications Quentin Pell said this week the company is examining the situation.

“Our general contractor is investigating the allegations,” he said. “Tanger has always been very concerned about the environment and will continue to be committed to this point of view.”

In a separate incident, a concerned citizen called the Coastkeeper last week about a strong chemical smell coming from the wastewater of a power-washing crew working at the Capri Condominium on 110th Street. The citizen voiced concern about the amount of water running into a storm drain leading to Assawoman Bay.

Phillips took a sample of the runoff, revealing total chlorine levels beyond the maximum level her water sample kit could even measure. Phillips also observed boxes in an open construction trailer labeled “caustic material-toxic.” Phillips submitted her water sample tests and photographs to MDE, which did a field inspection resulting in a NOV for the contractor and the Capri.

“The situation at the Capri is most unfortunate because, while undocumented, no doubt hundreds of gallons of chlorine bleach washed onto Coastal Highway that morning and into a storm drain directly out to Assawoman Bay,” Phillips said this week. “Chlorine kills vegetation, fish, crabs and whatever it comes into contact with.”