New study sought of risks at proving ground

March 15, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

A citizens group says Aberdeen Proving Ground needs to do a better job of assessing the public health risks associated with decades of hazardous-waste dumping at the installation, and it wants an independent study of such risks.

In a detailed letter sent last week to the proving ground commander, the Army surgeon general, and state and federal environmental officials, the Aberdeen Proving Ground Superfund Citizens Coalition says the huge installation needs to refocus its cleanup, which is among the most costly and complicated of U.S. chemical weapons sites.

Meanwhile, the Army says it is challenging an unrelated $115,000 federal fine for improper storage of the hazardous waste it continues to generate.

The Army ships the material to a dozen disposal sites across the country.

Proving ground officials, who argue that they have made significant improvements in the handling of tons of waste each year, plan to meet tomorrow with staff of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's regional office in Philadelphia to discuss the fine.

The fine, levied by the EPA in January, was the first of its kind against a military installation in the mid-Atlantic region.

The proving ground will spend $66 million this year -- and nearly $1 billion within 15 years -- to study and clean up dumps created between World War I and the 1970s.

"It will take decades to complete the field testing necessary to fully characterize contamination present" on the proving ground, the coalition said in the letter. "If adverse health effects are occurring, we cannot afford to await these results before taking action to eliminate the exposure. . . ."

The coalition has been working with attorneys and scientists from the University of Maryland, who helped prepare the letter.

The letter recommended:

* Much more testing of wells near the installation's borders. The Army already expects to spend $15 million removing trichloroethylene, a solvent and suspected carcinogen, from Harford County's Perryman well field, which supplies water to more than 80,000 residents.

* Extensive surveys to determine whether there are illnesses or health risks in communities around the proving ground.

* Better public notice of risks from chemicals and explosives in shallow waters around the proving ground.

"It looks like they are raising some good points," John W. Yaquiant, a proving ground spokesman, said, adding that top military and civilian officials at the proving ground discussed the letter yesterday and will prepare a formal response.

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