APG fined $140,000 for waste violations

January 06, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Staff Writer

Aberdeen Proving Ground was assessed two fines totaling $140,000 yesterday for violations in the handling of hazardous waste at the huge Harford County weapons-testing and research installation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fined the proving ground $115,000, and the Maryland Department of the Environment levied a penalty of $25,000. Both fines, which may be contested by the Army, stemmed from a joint inspection of the proving ground's environmental program conducted in January 1993, as well as subsequent inspections.

The MDE also required the Army to produce education material in waste handling that can be used statewide.

The penalties come as the proving ground is under increasing pressure to explain its efforts to clean up old dump sites created during four major wars. The installation is budgeted to spend about $65 million this year on cleanup, and hundreds of millions more in subsequent years.

The EPA said its fine was the first against a federal installation in the mid-Atlantic region since the authority for such penalties was granted by Congress in October 1992. The proving ground is one of the state's largest generators of chemical waste.

Among the violations, regulators fined the proving ground for:

* Storing 171 containers of chemical waste, including mercury compounds and dioxin-containing material, on site longer than the one year period allowed. The EPA said some of the containers had been stored for five to 10 years.

* Failing to prepare paperwork for more than 40 shipments of medical waste and chemical waste for disposal off-site. Numerous other record-keeping violations were noted.

* Storage of more than 3,000 gallons of white phosphorus for more than 10 years, rather than the 90 days allowed.

* Improper handling of sandblasting waste that contained lead and cadmium.

The proving ground is no longer allowed to bury or burn most waste on its property. It does, however, store it before shipment to sites around the country.

Neither the EPA nor the state cited notable release of waste into the environment but said the regulations are designed to prevent damage to wildlife and people.

None of the violations "have caused any direct danger to the environment, but the program is designed as preventive medicine," said Ruth Podems, a spokeswoman for the EPA's regional office in Philadelphia.

"We turned up a lot of problems," said Lou Gieszl, a spokesman for the state Environment Department. "Obviously, there are a lot of recurring problems with the management of their waste."

The state agency fined the proving ground $5,000 last March for similar violations in the handling of hazardous waste. Yesterday's action was the second fine by the state since the passage of the Federal Facilities Compliance Act more than a year ago.

The EPA says it has levied more than 20 environmental fines, some of more than $1 million, against federal facilities since the law's passage.

Gary Holloway, a proving ground spokesman, said the Army had not yet decided whether to contest the fines, adding that officials did not believe the penalties were "warranted."

"I'm afraid that it sends the impression that we are getting worse

when actually we are getting better out here," he said.

EPA fines are paid into the federal treasury, and Mr. Holloway said that takes much-needed money away from environmental programs.

In response, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, said yesterday that she will introduce legislation to require that money from federal environmental fines go toward environmental programs.

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