Incinerator Could Burn Apg Waste

Opponents Say Report Bolsters Case Vs. Plan

April 28, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

A new report for Congress says a planned $225 million incinerator for destroying aging chemical agents at Aberdeen Proving Ground could be used to get rid of other contaminated waste at the base.

The report, sent to Congress April 9, says the incinerator could be converted after the chemical agent stockpile is destroyed to decontaminate scraps from tainted storage containers, weapons and buildings.

But opponents to the planned incinerator said the study only strengthens their argument that the plant should never be built.

"(Thereport) is putting our worst fears into documentation so we can keepon fighting the incinerator," said Linda Koplovitz of Bel Air, president of Concerned Citizens for Maryland's Environment.

The study, prepared by the Mitre Corp., an affiliate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the conversion and use of the APG incineratorto destroy other contaminated materials would cost billions.

The Army could use other technology to destroy or decontaminate waste at APG, the study said, and those methods, such as a hot gas decontamination process, would cost less money.

Mitre added in the report that the Army will most likely face strong public opposition if the planto use the incinerator for other wastes is pursued.

A vocal groupof residents are opposed to the incinerator, contending that the plant will pose a threat to the environment and the health of nearly 40,000 people who live within 6 miles of the proposed site.

Nearly 500 people crowded the Edgewood High School auditorium for a public hearing in February, most to voice opposition to the planned incinerator. Only one person spoke in favor of the proposedplant.

Koplovitz said her group is going to Washington, D.C., in May with members of Greenpeace, an international environmental organization, to show support for alternatives to the incinerator.

"We feel the proposed incinerators should not go up, period," Koplovitz said. "There are all kinds of ways of decontaminating these agents without the incinerator."

The Mitre report does not address the benefits or disadvantages ofthe planned incinerator.

The study says the APG incinerator wouldbe suitable for the thermal decontamination of these other items after the chemical agents are destroyed:

* More than 2,400 one-ton containers now stored at APG.

* An estimated 43,000 tons of contaminated metal scraps buried in fields at the proving ground.

* Concrete and masonry rubble from tainted buildings in which chemicals and weapons were manufactured or tested.

At least 16 APG buildings havebeen found to be contaminated, according to the study.

The cleansed rubble and metal remaining from the decontamination process could then be sold as scrap, Mitre said.

However, the cost of convertingthe incinerator for other uses would cost billions, and the decontamination process would take decades, Mitre researchers said in the study.

As an example, Mitre said the decontamination of concrete and masonry rubble would take 70 years and cost $1.5 billion.

In addition, the decontamination of the containers and buried scrap would take seven years and cost $119 million, the study said.

While the APGfacility is suitable for decontaminating some materials, Mitre ruledout others, such as munitions, contaminated soil, hazardous and municipal wastes.

These operations were ruled out for a number of reasons, including cost, public opposition, regulatory limits, or an insufficient supply of materials to process, the study says.

The Mitrestudy also outlines the amount of contaminated materials at APG. Thematerials include:

* 2,452 empty 1-ton containers once used to store bulk chemical warfare agents, including mustard, lewisite and tear gas.

* 2,000 smoke grenades, 50 smoke pots and cans, 30 expendedrocket warheads and 30 launcher tubes used by the Chemical Research,Development and Engineering Center.

* 16 unused buildings, possibly contaminated with nitrates, benzene, xylene, industrial cleaners and solvents, and asbestos.

* 164 chemical munitions tested between1918 and 1969. The unexploded ordnance contains white phosphorus, beryllium, titanium, depleted uranium and TNT.

A 4 1/2-acre site, called the O Field, is estimated to contain 153,710 cubic yards of contaminated equipment, munitions and scrap and 95,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil.

Two landfills, one of which was closed in 1980, contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, waste oils, chemicals, herbicides and paints.

The Army also has large amounts of contaminated materials in storage, including 132,000 pounds of PCB-contaminated liquids and solids, 125,000 pounds of debris tainted with toxic metals, PCBs and solvents, and 500,000 pounds of soil contaminated with the insecticide DDT.

Despite opposition to the incinerator,the Army plans to start construction of the $255 million plant in June 1993, said Louise Dyson, spokeswoman for the Army.

"We ourselves do not formulate the plan," Dyson said. "Whatever Congress tells usto do, that's what we're going to do."

The incinerator is scheduled to be in full operation by 1997, Dyson said. It is expected to take about one year for the Army to destroy APG's stock of aging chemical agents.

APG has about 5 percent, or 1,500 tons, of the Army's 30,000 tons of aging chemical agents in storage, the Army has said.

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