Site Neall favors for new jail is contaminated with radioactive material

November 17, 1992|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer Staff writers Andrea Siegel and John Morris contributed to this article.

The site on New Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie that was favored by County Executive Robert R. Neall for a new jail is contaminated with radioactive material, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In a Nov. 9 letter to the state Department of Environment, NRC officials said "radioactive thorium contamination exists on the property and in the buildings at a level that appears to exceed the NRC's current criteria" for general use.

The survey would appear to end consideration of the New Ordnance Road site for the $80 million, 650-bed detention center. A county task force rejected the site early in its deliberations based on a soil study done in 1989 for the Coca-Cola Co. that showed readings for carcinogens far above normal standards. The County Council eliminated it last week from its own list, partly because it had not yet received an NRC letter declaring the site safe.

Council Chairman David G. Boschert said in March that he wanted a written guarantee from the NRC that property was clean. In recent public meetings, he said the letter, promised by June 30, had not been received by county officials.

"All I said was, 'Would you put it in writing?' And [an NRC official] said he'd write a letter to that effect," Mr. Boschert said yesterday. "June 30 turned into August, August turned into October, and I just received it today."

The county purchased 85 acres of the Curtis Bay Depot from the federal government in 1981. The depot is licensed by the NRC to store radioactive material. Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene records indicate the depot stored thorium nitrate in 55-gallon drums.

In 1959, the remnants of 22,000 barrels contaminated with thorium nitrate were buried in a pit adjacent to the property later acquired by the county.

According to the NRC's letter, the General Services Administration and the NRC surveyed the property in 1977 before declaring it surplus. Both the GSA and the NRC found that the nuclear materials posed no problem and released the property and several warehouses on it for unrestricted use.

However, the criteria for the release of properties that may have been contaminated by nuclear wastes are more stringent today than they were in 1977.

The NRC's letter says the old standards "may not be adequate to assure that public health and safety are adequately protected over the long term."

NRC officials have asked the Defense Logistics Agency and the GSA to evaluate the Ordnance Road site and recommend by Dec. 4 what should be done to bring the property up to acceptable health and safety standards.

The NRC also has proposed holding a meeting on or before Jan. 3 that will include officials from the state and the county, as well as members of the public.

Mr. Neall had no immediate comment. "We don't know what all the ramifications are," said spokeswoman Louise Hayman.

An immediate question on the minds of council members is who is going to pay for the cleanup. Mr. Boschert said the federal government, which sold the property to the county with the understanding that it was free from contamination, should foot the bill.

Councilman Carl "Dutch" Holland agreed. "It's like selling a used car with a guarantee," he said. "When it was turned over, it got a clean bill of health."

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