ANNAPOLIS – Worried citizens and home builders locked horns Thursday in the House of Delegates Economic Affairs Committee over a bill that would require developers to warn prospective buyers about environmental hazards near newly built houses.
The bill requires new home builders to provide a written disclosure of any environmental hazards of which they are aware within a one-mile radius of the home site.
The bill’s sponsor, Del. A. Wade Kach, R-Baltimore County, noted that it features the same language as the law for sellers of previously occupied houses.
Under Maryland law, owners who are reselling their homes must disclose any environmental hazards within the vicinity of which they have “actual” knowledge. Actual knowledge is any documentation or proof that a homeowner could use to prove that a builder knew about toxic materials around a new house or development.
But builders of new homes are not required to notify prospective buyers of potential hazards around the home site.
Environmental hazards specified by Kach’s bill include asbestos, lead-based paint, radon underground storage tanks, and licensed landfills.
Speaking for the measure, Dr. Richard McQuaid, president of the Baltimore County-based North County Coalition, claimed that “there is a trend among developers to acquire land at waste sites at very low prices” and then turn them into new neighborhoods.
Harriet McGinnis, representing the Maryland Line Community Association, called the idea behind the bill a “no-brainer.” “The state is attempting to attract new homebuyers, but it doesn’t protect them…this bill represents a win-win situation” for homebuyers and developers.
Under the current law a person could spend a life’s savings on a new house “and then in two or three years find out that the water is contaminated,” McGinnis said.
But there was some concern among builders about how the bill would affect them if it became law. Many houses in new developments are built by different home builders and not by the developer, said J. Steven Wise, the government affairs liaison for the Maryland Builders Association.
Wise was concerned that builders could be held liable for toxic materials located near the house, even though, like the homeowner, they may not be informed of them by the developer.
Kach, in a statement released Thursday, noted that “sooner or later, some long inactive landfill in this state will be rezoned for residential development…Certainly, we should not wait until some Maryland home buyer unknowingly purchases a home on or near a toxic waste site to enact the law.”
Kach cited a recent effort to rezone an area adjacent to the now unused Parkton Landfill in Baltimore County, and claims that the Department of the Environment has acknowledged that the site contains enough toxins to qualify as a federal Superfund dump.
But Art O’Donnell, chief of site assessment for the Federal Superfund Division, said in a telephone interview that the Parkton Landfill is a “nothing” site, that it contains only “low levels of contaminants.”
“There is no reason to qualify this as a Superfund site,” O’Donnell said. In the past two years the bill has received approval from the House of Delegates before being killed in Senate committees. -30-