Proving ground facing possible fine over toxins

November 11, 1993|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Staff Writer

Aberdeen Proving Ground faces the prospect of a large fine from federal regulators for alleged lapses in the management of hazardous waste.

Armed with a year-old law that allows states and the federal government to fine military installations for environmental violations, regulators are demonstrating a willingness to fine bases up to $2 million or more for failing to comply with rules regarding the handling or disposal of waste.

Before passage of the law, bases had claimed sovereign immunity from such fines.

The threat of a fine stems from findings of a comprehensive inspection of the proving ground's environmental program, conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment between Jan. 25 and Feb. 4.

The proving ground is one of the largest generators of dangerous chemical waste in Maryland.

EPA enforcement officials in Philadelphia have asked the proving ground why 90 drums or containers of chemical waste were kept in a temporary storage facility longer than the allowed one year.

Though none of the containers was leaking and there was no evidence of damage to the environment, some drums had been stored in the warehouse-like building for as long as five to 10 years, an Oct. 15 letter from the EPA indicated.

EPA officials said that the Army must demonstrate that it has made a "good faith effort" to dispose of the waste.

Proving ground environmental officials said they sent a detailed response to the EPA letter yesterday.

Lt. Col. Neal Wright, acting chief of the proving ground's hazardous waste branch, said the Army has not been able to find disposal areas anywhere in country for some of the material, including mercury compounds, dioxin-containing waste and highly reactive bromide compounds.

Also, Colonel Wright said, some of the waste had not been shipped to disposal sites as required because officials were still trying to determine the exact nature of the material.

Since the inspection earlier this year at the 72,000-acre weapons-testing and research facility, about half the waste at issue has been shipped to disposal sites, officials said.

Proving ground officials said yesterday that they questioned whether fines were "productive," considering that they are fighting hard to obtain money to clean up dozens of old waste dumps and meet current environmental regulations.

The proving ground wants to spend about $100 million in the current federal fiscal year to clean up polluted sites and comply with environmental regulations.

"Environmental dollars are hard to come by. We don't feel a fine is productive to the end goal, and that is to clean up this place and keep this place in compliance," said Gary Holloway, chief proving ground spokesman. "All you're doing is taking money away from the program. You don't need to get our attention. You have our attention."

In addition to the threat of an EPA fine, a spokesman for the state environment department said yesterday that his agency was still studying the findings of the inspection and considering whether to take enforcement action, including a fine, for hazardous waste violations.

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