Avoiding the 'Super' Stigma at APG

May 09, 1994

What's in a name? Depends on what the name is. "Superfund site" is one such controversial appellation, supposedly designating toxic waste dumps for high-priority attention.

That tag may apply to parts of the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground, but it is not an accurate description of the entire 72,000-acre installation in Harford County where 5,500 people live and more than 15,000 soldiers and civilians work.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however, proposes to slap that derogatory label on all of APG, urged on by local environmental groups.

The Superfund label won't earn one more dollar to locate and neutralize the buried residues from seven decades of chemical warfare and munitions testing there. APG already receives the maximum amount ($66 million this year) allowed by Army funding rules for toxic waste cleanup work.

The Edgewood area of APG has been a Superfund site for years. It doesn't get extra cleanup money. And thousands of people live and work there without demonstrated ill health effects. (The Michaelsville landfill in the Aberdeen area is the other existing Superfund site on the post.)

EPA says that declaring all of APG a Superfund site could save the agency time and money in pinpointing, documenting and studying specific hot spots on the post. Citizen activists believe it would raise public awareness of APG's buried hazardous wastes; it would also free up federal grants that they could use for their activities at APG.

Critics of the proposal naturally worry that Superfund designation for the entire installation, Harford's largest employer, might spook the Pentagon into shrinking the weapons testing and research activities at APG. That concern seems unfounded -- the Army broke ground last month on an $80 million research laboratory that will bring more than 200 new jobs to the proving ground.

The state environmental department, the Harford County government and Maryland's congressional delegation all see no justification or real benefit for applying the Superfund label. We agree. Let the cleanup activities continue apace at APG, without hanging that useless, unnecessarily frightening sign over the whole installation.

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