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State: Speed Up Cleanup of Area B

June 19, 2008

By Justin M. Palk, The Frederick News-Post, Md.

Jun. 18–Maryland’s Secretary of the Environment is criticizing the federal government for dragging its feet on investigating groundwater contamination at Fort Detrick’s Area B.

In a letter dated June 4, Shari Wilson, Maryland Secretary of the Environment, urged the Environmental Protection Agency to add Area B to the Superfund program’s National Priorities List within 30 days. “The continued delay perpetuates the unacceptably long timeline that this investigation continues to take,” Wilson wrote. West of the developed portion of Fort Detrick, Area B is where the Army used to dispose of lab waste, including chemicals and incinerated biological waste.

In the 1990s, state officials determined that chemicals from the landfills were contaminating the groundwater. The Army has been working to clean up the landfills since 2001.

The EPA is considering the state’s request, but has not yet made a decision, Roxanne Smith, an EPA spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail. If the EPA lists Area B on the National Priorities List, the post will comply with federal laws and regulations regarding the listing and cleanup, according to a written statement from Fort Detrick’s Environmental Management Office.

The NPL includes the most seriously contaminated sites identified for possible long-term cleanup, according to the EPA. Wilson’s letter asks the EPA to put Area B on the NPL within 30 days “so that the state can move forward with alternative forms of action, if necessary.”

MDE spokeswoman Kim Lamphier said she didn’t know what those alternative forms of action might be.

Wilson’s letter also notes that, despite requests from the state and the recommendation of an Army advisory panel in 1999, a comprehensive review of the groundwater contamination at Area B has never been completed. In its statement, Fort Detrick’s Environmental Management Office noted the lengths the post has gone to clean up the site, at a cost of $43 million since 1992.

Of 42 sites at Fort Detrick identified as needing cleanup, work on 41 should be completed in the near future, according to the EMO. The 42nd site is the groundwater contamination.

Given the length of time it takes to get a site listed on the NPL, Area B could be cleaned up before it makes the list, according to the Environmental Management Office.

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