Citizens Seek Funds To Aid Superfund Clean-Up Effort

by Max Obuszewski

Armed with $2,000 in seed money from a Baltimore benefactor, local activists hope to raise $20,000 this year for staff necessary to manage two pending grants totaling $200,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Four former EPA grants, totaling $200,000 for the past five years, have financed civilian monitoring of the cleanup of toxic pollutants at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) in Harford County.
"The citizens of Maryland have benefited greatly from the involvement of independent toxicologists and radioactivity specialists in one of America's most polluted sites," said Richard Ochs, the recently-elected president of the APG Superfund Citizens Coalition.
The Federal Facility Agreement between the EPA and the Army in 1990 resulted in $98 million being spent on the APG cleanup in 1994 alone. Since then, $45 million has been spent every year. This spending will continue until a billion dollars are spent there.
The several thousand dollars the Coalition hopes to raise to administer citizen oversight of this clean-up pales in comparison, but underscores the importance of raising this money. After illegal levels of APG's dumped trichlorethylene were discovered in Harford County's public drinking water, the Coalition pressured the Army to build a million-dollar treatment plant to remove this carcinogen.
Citizens were also successful last year in preventing the incineration of a dangerous warfare chemical, mustard agent, at APG. Instead, a safer agent destruction technology was chosen, which would not emit carcinogenic waste gasses or be as accident-prone as an incinerator.
This year, after Mr. Ochs pointed out that contaminated land was becoming inundated by bay waters, the Army announced plans to build bulkheads on threatened shorelines and clean out toxic dumps soon to be swamped as land erodes.
Much more needs to be done, however, which underlines the importance of continuing the EPA Technical Assistance Grants (TAG). Contamination of underground aquifers, wetlands, bay waters and land near residential areas and schools needs to be measured and cleaned up.
Dangerous unexploded ordnance, including chemical warfare agents, are scattered about under a few inches of soil. Radioactive elements are also dispersed around the base. The activists insist that Army practices, such as open burning and detonation of toxic substances, need to be stopped. Landfills full of toxics need to be excavated, capped, lined and the drainage treated.
According to the Army, the APG was a site of munitions development, training, testing, and hazardous disposal practices since 1919, resulting in massive groundwater and unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination.
Ochs reports that University of Maryland toxicologists and Coalition members have helped educate the public of the dangers posed by large quantities of chemical agent-filled and conventional UXO immersed in dozens of square miles of the upper Chesapeake Bay and Gunpowder and Bush Rivers.
Ochs says that the Army installed warning signs along the shorelines to inform the public of toxic and UXO dangers.
"Maryland citizens and the Chesapeake Bay would be at significant risk if the EPA grants were to expire due to lack of staff to administer the funds," said Susan Rice, treasurer of the APG Superfund Citizens Coalition and past president of the Harford County League of Women Voters. "Tens of thousands of nearby Maryland residents, living under emergency evacuation plans, and watermen, boaters and bay life need to be protected," said Ms. Rice.

For information, call the APG Hotline at 1-800-APG-9998, or the Superfund Citizens Coalition at 879-9560 or 679-5855.

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This story was published on April 1, 1998.