Foes of APG incinerator favor bill on burn rules

March 12, 1993|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Staff Writer

Officials and citizens on both shores of the Chesapeake Bay supported state legislation yesterday that could stop the Army's plan to build a $438 million incinerator to burn lethal mustard agent at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

In a hearing before the House Environmental Matters Committee, opponents of the incineration plan from Harford and Kent counties said the bill would establish operating and permit requirements for the burning process.

Similar laws have been enacted in Kentucky and Indiana, where the Army also plans to burn stockpiles of chemical warfare agents.

Some incineration opponents claimed yesterday that the Army cannot be trusted to operate the plant safely, and that evacuation plans in surrounding communities were inadequate to deal with a possible accident at the plant.

"Aberdeen's track record has not been that tremendous in terms of environmental compliance," said John E. Nunn, a Kent County attorney who opposes the incineration plan.

He and other speakers noted the recent $5,000 state fine against the proving ground for violations in the handling and management of hazardous waste.

The fine marked the first such environmental penalty by a state against an Army installation since enactment last year of the Federal Facilities Compliance Act, allowing states to levy such fines.

The Army and the state environment department have expressed concerns about the bill, saying it might be so restrictive that it would constitute a ban on incineration. Congress has ordered the Army to destroy its obsolete mustard and nerve agents, but incineration opponents want the Army to find chemical or other means of destruction.

The Harford County General Assembly delegation, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, the Kent County commissioners and local environmental groups voiced support for the bill at the hearing. House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell, a Kent County Democrat, is sponsoring the measure. The bill, among other things, would set emissions standards, allow for independent review of the incineration plan and require the Army to prove that no safer way to destroy the mustard agent exists. The chemical can blister the skin and respiratory system and, in high doses, can kill people.

An estimated 1,500 tons of the syrupy liquid have been stored at a site near the Bush River since World War II.

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