Russians, Rehrmann discuss arms disposal

March 27, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

County office workers just couldn't resist saying it Thursday: "The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming."

In a slightly different scenario from the 1966 movie, two visiting Russians had been asked to meet with County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann for an informal discussion on chemical weapons disposal.

The Russians also spoke at a town meeting, attended by about 80 people, at Joppatowne Library later that evening.

Dr. Lev Fyoderov, a chemist and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Natalia Shevdeva, an environmental activist, were being shepherded through the county Thursday and Friday by members of the Concerned Citizens for Maryland's Environment and the Aberdeen Proving Ground Superfund Citizen Coalition.

After a meeting in Bethesda last weekend, Harford County was the next stop of the Russians' monthlong tour of the eight U.S. chemical stockpile sites, including Aberdeen Proving Ground, which they visited Friday.

Their trip is being sponsored by the Chemical Weapons Working Group, a coalition of environmental activists living near the stockpile sites.

Craig Williams, chairman of the group who is accompanying the Russians around the country, explained the purpose of the visit to Mrs. Rehrmann.

"We're opposed to incineration [of chemical weapons] and are seeking a solution that meets everybody's needs in an acceptable fashion," he said.

In recent years, environmental activists from the United States and Russia have joined forces to oppose incineration of the lethal chemicals. Activists following the weapons-destruction efforts in both countries are pushing for alternatives, including processes that use chemicals or bacteria to neutralize the material.

During their visit here, Dr. Fyoderov and Ms. Shevdeva, who both spoke through an interpreter, shared tragic stories of what has happened in their country at areas surrounding chemical weapons plants.

Dr. Fyoderov has often spoken out against the former Soviet Union, accusing it of causing thousands of deaths and widespread contamination in and around its chemical weapons production plants. Russia inherited the chemical weapons from the Soviet Union.

As the 58-year-old scientist reminded the Joppatowne group, "One chemical war would destroy the world."

Ms. Shevdeva, who is from the area of Cheboksary on the Volga River where one of the country's largest chemical weapons facilities was located, said she became involved in the movement after learning more and more about the plant.

The facility was closed five years ago after operating for 15 years, but the area is still feeling its effects, Ms. Shevdeva said. "The legacy is a sick population, with sicker workers who were involved in the labor there," she said.

The 43-year-old activist cited statistics for the area's 450,000 people: 16.5 percent of those who are born die in the first year, and 90 percent of the children born have some kind of genetic defect. "Something should be done," Ms. Shevdeva said.

The Joppatowne audience was visibly moved when she sought help for her countrymen: "I'm asking for anyone here who knows any doctors who have experience in toxic contamination."

Dr. Fyoderov also made a plea. "I'd like to propose to you, let's work together. Working together, we'll clear air up from chemical wastes [better] than working alone."

It was a message he had also proposed to Mrs. Rehrmann, although there was a little confusion in the translation.

The interpreter had said, "I have a strange request . . ." whereupon Dr. Fyoderov insisted that he meant "crazy proposal." The meaning wasn't lost either way on citizens of the former superpower enemies.

"I have a crazy proposal in the coming years and decades that we maintain contact, exchanging useful information," Dr. Fyoderov said. "It would be mutually beneficial to each other."

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