State fines Aberdeen Proving Ground $5,000 HARFORD COUNTY

March 02, 1993|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Staff Writer

Aberdeen Proving Ground has been fined $5,000 by the Maryland Department of the Environment for violations involving the storage and processing of potentially dangerous chemical waste, department officials said yesterday.

Michael Sullivan, an Environment Department spokesman, said the fine was the first by the agency against the Army installation, and apparently the first environmental fine levied against a federal facility in Maryland. "Obviously, we're trying to send a message that there are things that do need to be corrected," Mr. Sullivan said.

Gary Holloway, a spokesman for the 72,000-acre research and weapons-testing installation, said the Army had discussed the state's findings and that "most, if not all" of the problems had been corrected.

The Sun reported recently that the Army and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are conducting three separate investigations into alleged environmental violations at the proving ground, including some involving the handling of hazardous waste.

In response, Army officials acknowledged four "minor" violations of rules pertaining to storage of hazardous waste.

Mr. Sullivan said none of the violations found over the past year resulted in a release of chemicals, adding that environmental laws are designed to prevent such releases.

Mr. Sullivan said the maximum fine could have been $100,000.

Some of the violations involve:

* Storage of waste oil contaminated with PCBs in a railroad tank car that had no "secondary containment," or means to stop a leak, as required. Neither Army nor state officials could say late yesterday how much waste was stored in the tank car and for how long.

* Improper storage of hazardous waste and lack of proper labeling and inspections at the proving ground's Ordnance Center and School. Inspectors found violations at two of the center's buildings during a visit in September, and then similar violations at two additional buildings at an inspection in January.

* Storage of hazardous waste at "N-field," in the proving ground's Edgewood area, without the proper documentation of inspections. N-field is a large concrete bunker where the proving ground stores a variety of chemical munitions resulting from decades of chemical warfare research.

* The lack of an updated emergency plan for a chemical-agent decontamination incinerator.

Harford County officials recently asked the state to ensure that the incinerator was operating with the proper safeguards, since it "thermally treats" laboratory equipment and other items that were -- or had the potential to be -- contaminated with deadly warfare agents.

Two days after The Sun reported the investigations, which are continuing, proving ground officials said they had reassigned Michael F. Flannery Jr., chief of the installation's Directorate of Safety, Health and Environment.

When asked about the investigations recently, Robert Perciasepe, state environment secretary, said it was not unusual for state inspectors to find 20 or 30 environmental violations during a broad inspection of the proving ground. He gave no indication that the agency was preparing to fine the proving ground.

Mr. Sullivan said the proving ground had 30 days to request a hearing on the fine or pay the penalty.

Mr. Holloway, the proving ground spokesman, said: "There is no indication that we will contest this action. . . . What we want to do is move on and make sure this doesn't happen again."

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