Incinerator controls due for Senate OK Proposed plant to burn mustard gas

April 04, 1993|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Staff Writer

Legislation designed to ensure the safe operation of a proposed incinerator for burning lethal mustard agent at Aberdeen Proving Ground is expected to be adopted by the Maryland Senate this week.

The bill, which would also provide for more citizen review of the project, won House of Delegates approval last month after the Army, state environmental officials and opponents of the incineration plan worked out a compromise.

The Army had feared that language in the original bill would have made it impossible to build the $438 million incinerator.

Robert P. Hukill, a Kent County resident who worked on the compromise, said that incinerator opponents generally were satisfied with the amended version.

"Everybody had to give something," he said. But, he added, "the Army was on a road to remove as much beef out of it as they could."

Marilyn Tischbin, a spokeswoman for the Army's Chemical Materiel Destruction Agency, with headquarters at the proving ground, said the agency was satisfied with the changes in the bill.

"Both sides should be pleased with the bill," she said.

The amended bill, among other things, would require the Army to destroy 99.9999 percent of the mustard agent during incineration and would require that monitoring data from a comparable facility be submitted before the proving ground plant is built.

Five percent -- an estimated 1,500 tons of mustard agent -- of the Army's stockpile of old chemical warfare agents has been stored at the proving since World War II. Mustard, a syrupy liquid, can blister the skin and eyes and burn the respiratory system.

In lower doses, mustard can cause chronic injuries; in high doses, it can be fatal. It causes cancer in laboratory animals.

One key provision struck from the original bill would have required the Army to demonstrate that no safer disposal method "exists or could be developed."

The Army maintains that no alternative technology, such as neutralization by chemical or biological processes, will be available soon enough to meet the congressionally imposed deadline of 2004 for destroying the agents.

Similar stockpiles of obsolete mustard and nerve agents must be destroyed at seven other U.S. sites.

Maryland lawmakers also softened language that would have required local governments around the proving ground to approve an evacuation plan for the incinerator before a state permit is issued. The bill now says an emergency plan must be presented at public meetings. Another provision eliminated from the bill would have allowed the state to revoke a permit for the incinerator any time the facility violated environmental protection laws.

Should the Senate adopt the measure and the governor sign it, Maryland would become the third state with laws regulating incinerators planned for disposing of the stockpiles.

A Kentucky law passed last year contains some of the provisions stricken from the Maryland bill. Indiana passed a law resembling the amended Maryland bill.

The Maryland bill, submitted by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., received broad support. Mr. Mitchell is a Democrat -- from Kent County, which is across the Chesapeake Bay from where the incinerator would be built.

The Harford General Assembly delegation, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, the Kent County commissioners and local environmental groups also supported the measure.

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