State orders proving ground to show it is going all out to reduce toxic waste HARFORD COUNTY

March 03, 1993|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Staff Writer

Maryland environmental officials, who this week fined Aberdeen Proving Ground for improper storage and handling of hazardous waste, have ordered the Army post to show that it is doing all it can to reduce or re-use the material.

In a nine-page administrative order received by the Harford County installation Monday, the state Department of the Environment gave the Army 60 days to show that it had considered all ways to recycle or reduce the waste its ships to about 15 disposal sites across the country. There are no hazardous waste disposal sites in Maryland.

Such measures mean there is less waste to be spilled in transport and less waste to be buried or burned in incinerators, said John Goheen, an environment department spokesman.

In the order, the state assessed a penalty of $5,000 for the waste violations, which included storage of 10,000 gallons of oil contaminated with high levels of PCBs in a railroad car that wasn't equipped to contain a leak.

Proving ground officials say the rail car was stored without TC proper safeguards for 89 days, but they say they have not determined where the PCBs came from.

The action was the first environmental fine against a federal facility in Maryland and the first against an Army installation in the country, said a Pentagon spokesman. The Federal Facilities Compliance Act, passed by Congress in October, gave states the authority to levy such fines.

Harford County Council member Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, said of the fine: "I'm glad to see that [the state environment department] is finally taking their role seriously. . . . It will give a sense of security to all of us."

The state "was right to issue the fine," added Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson, a Republican.

Mrs. Pierno is among several council members asking questions lately about the proving ground's environmental program.

Council members have criticized the environment department for being lax about enforcement involving private landfills in the county.

In 1991, the latest year for which the state had data, the proving ground was the third largest generator of potentially dangerous chemical waste in Maryland, Mr. Goheen said.

In that year, the proving ground generated 3,730 tons of hazardous chemical waste, he said.

The 72,000-acre, diverse research and weapons-testing installation has more than 500 hazardous waste generation sites.

The waste includes solvents, paints, oil, laboratory solutions and sludges.

FMC Corp., a South Baltimore chemical company, generated 9,280 tons of hazardous waste in 1991, and Eastern Stainless Corp. in Baltimore County generated 5,674 tons that year, Mr. Goheen said.

Proving ground officials said the installation generated 1,344 tons of hazardous waste in 1992, but state officials had not yet received data for that year.

The state fine, which proving ground officials say they will not contest, comes amid three separate investigations of the installation's environmental-protection efforts. Maj. Gen. Richard W. Tragemann, the proving ground commander, ordered an Army investigation Jan. 5, and a similar probe is being conducted by the Army inspector general's office at the Pentagon.

At a meeting with local and state government officials last week, General Tragemann said, "I suspect there will be some changes made to the structure" of the proving ground's environmental program.

Two weeks ago, officials reassigned Michael F. Flannery Jr., who had headed the proving ground's Directorate of Safety, Health and Environment since April 1991.

Also, a Denver-based enforcement arm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting another investigation of alleged environmental violations. Proving ground sources say the EPA is looking at many of the same issues for which the state fined the proving ground.

Sources also say the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore is looking into the violations, but officials there have declined to comment.

A Justice Department investigation of the proving ground in the late 1980s led to the February 1989 criminal convictions of three high-level civilian executives.

The executives, who worked in chemical weapons research, were found guilty of mishandling hazardous waste.

In a Pentagon memo sent to Army installations after the convictions, officials reminded all federal workers that they could be held accountable for environmental violations, including knowingly violating state and federal waste permits and knowingly omitting information on required documents.

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