Alternatives to burning mustard agent urged

February 19, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

A citizens commission appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer says the Army should "immediately" begin developing a project to chemically neutralize Aberdeen Proving Ground's old stockpile of mustard agent, instead of burning the carcinogen in a densely populated area bordering the Chesapeake Bay.

The report of the Maryland Chemical Demilitarization Citizens' Advisory Commission is in response to a recently released study by the National Research Council. The council said chemical and possibly biological neutralization of Aberdeen's mustard agent offers an "attractive alternative" to building a huge, expensive incinerator to dispose of the lethal material.

The recommendation is contained in a nine-page draft of a report that the state commission plans to send to the Army, Congress and others by Tuesday. The commission's members are from Baltimore, Harford and Kent counties, and there are representatives of the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

"Incineration of a known carcinogen [mustard] in the most densely populated stockpile site and in a state with the second-highest cancer rate in the nation is environmentally unacceptable," the commission's report states.

Commission members have met twice since the release of the National Research Council's report, including this week in Baltimore, to draft their recommendations.

The Maryland commission and others across the country were established by Congress to give the public a stronger voice in the debate over disposal of the military's old chemical warfare agent stockpiles. Disposal is required by Congress and an international treaty.

The proving ground is one of eight U.S. stockpile sites.

Only two sites, Aberdeen and Newport, Ind., have bulk chemicals, not the more dangerous and less stable rockets and other munitions filled with mustard and nerve agents.

The Army proposed in 1988 to build incinerators at each of the eight stockpile sites, including a $438 million plant at Aberdeen to burn an estimated 1,500 tons of mustard agent.

But local and national environmental activists say they fear that incineration would produce unsafe emissions and that the plants would be used to burn other military hazardous waste.

"The state of Maryland and the federal government have expended great sums of money to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and the associated ecosystem," the commission's draft report states.

"None of the other eight stockpile storage sites are located on an estuary as intricately connected with the well-being of a state and its citizens as the Aberdeen site."

The National Research Council study said after Aberdeen's stockpile is reduced to a less toxic material by chemical treatment, it may have to shipped elsewhere for further treatment.

But Army officials say they would rather fully neutralize Aberdeen's mustard agent on site and avoid expected political battles over shipping the material to another state.

Charles Baronian, the civilian program manager in the Army's Chemical Materiel Destruction Agency, told the state commission last week that the Army is prepared to pursue alternatives to incineration if Congress will pay for the research.

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