Group seeks to force EPA to regulate waste munitions at Aberdeen, elsewhere

March 10, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

A Joppa-based citizens group says it plans to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force it to regulate the handling and disposal of millions of rounds of military munitions that have been fired at Aberdeen Proving Ground and other test ranges around the country.

The group, working with the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic in Baltimore, says the EPA is almost a year behind schedule in developing regulations for the waste munitions.

The group, called the Aberdeen Proving Ground Superfund Citizens Coalition, says Congress told the EPA to propose regulations by April 1993 and make them final within two years.

The coalition recently sent a legal notice of its intention to sue to EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. Such citizen suits have become more common in recent years as Congress has passed more environmental laws.

Aberdeen, a 75-year-old weapons-testing installation, offers a prime example of what the group says is a loophole in the federal hazardous waste law.

An estimated 20 million artillery rounds and other munitions left over from testing are on the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways around the proving ground. More of the old rounds are scattered around the installation.

An undetermined number of the munitions never exploded, posing safety risks, and some are filled with TNT and other chemicals that can be hazardous to people and wildlife, the coalition says.

"There is no regulation," said Rena Steinzor, director of the UM Environmental Law Clinic, which is providing free legal services to the coalition.

The Army "is not even sampling the sediment to see what's going into the bay," she said.

Matthew Hale, a deputy director in the EPA's solid-waste office near Washington, said the agency is aware of the concerns about old munitions and is moving ahead with regulations.

He said there are technical and legal issues to be resolved.

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