Residents doubtful about cleanup of radioactivity site

May 24, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Federal, state and Anne Arundel officials told about 40 North County residents last night that the removal of radioactive materials from county-owned property on Ordnance Road in Glen Burnie will begin within weeks.

But many of those who gathered at the Glen Burnie High School auditorium said the answers they received did little to calm their anxieties that the cleanup would be inadequate, or that removing the contamination could be more harmful than just leaving it there.

Many residents said they believe that county and federal officials involved in the cleanup of the land have not been candid with them, and they do not understand why the project is proceeding so quickly.

"If nobody, nobody is in favor of this, there must be a reason," said Joyce Sias of Cedar Morris.

"You can't make me feel better. You can't tell me that everything is going to be all right. I am not going to believe you."

State Sen. Philip Jimeno, a Brooklyn Park Democrat, said he was not aware of any elected official calling for cleanup of the land, nor have his constituents pressed for removal of the contamination.

"I guess the question is, who is asking for the cleanup?" Mr. Jimeno said.

Nick Orlando of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission replied that it is the policy of his agency that contamination is promptly removed once it is identified.

The 85 acres of county-owned land was contaminated by radioactive thorium nitrate that was stored in eight warehouses when the property was part of the Army General Services Depot at Curtis Bay. The thorium was stored in granular form that dissolved when water got into the barrels.

The contamination was not detected when the federal government sold the buildings to the county in 1981.

Eleven other World War I-era buildings on the property, which are not contaminated with thorium, also will be removed.

All the wood-frame warehouses are covered by 4-foot-by-8-foot asbestos panels.

Much of the controversy regarding the cleanup project centers on the county's intention to build a detention center annex on the property after it is complete.

Federal and county officials directing the cleanup detailed the procedure in an attempt to allay some of those fears.

After the exterior, interior and roof of each building are tested to assure there is no thorium contamination, they will be dismantled by a contractor hired by the county and taken to a disposal site.

The county is paying $160,000 for demolition of the buildings, a sum it is trying to recover from the federal government.

The federal contractor, Rust Remediation Services of Columbia, S.C., will test the floorboards and soil beneath the warehouses and will remove any that contains thorium. Rust officials estimate that they will remove 700 cubic feet -- approximately 3 1/2 truckloads -- of soil and debris.

The contaminated materials will be placed in sealed containers and will be shipped to a licensed disposal facility in Clive, Utah.

County officials have set up a sediment and erosion control plan "that is essentially geared to assuring no sediment leaves the site," said Rodell Phaire, the county's assistant chief engineer.

Cost of the radiation removal, which will be paid from the Defense Department's Environmental Restoration Account, will be close to $1 million, said F. Kevin Reilly of the Defense Logistics Agency, which is supervising the cleanup.

Lisa Ritter, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Public Works, said there would be a "nominal" increase in truck traffic as a result of the project.

"You're going to see a few extra trucks, but it won't be a nightmare," she said. Most work will be done on weekdays, but some Saturday work may be required, "especially if we've had a rain period and we have some work we need to button up," she said.

Ms. Ritter said work should be finished by the end of the summer.

After the contaminated soil is removed, the NRC will test the area again for contamination.

"If, pray tell, they find anything, we will be back in there to take out more," Mr. Reilly said.

In response to concerns about ground water contamination, Mr. Reilly said additional testing will be performed a month before the soil removal is finished, which may involve drilling testing wells in addition to the six already on the site.

Several residents expressed concern about the presence of toxic heavy metals that were detected in previous testing of the property.

Mr. Reilly acknowledged that such heavy metals have been detected, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency determined that they were not leaking into ground water. "No further action is necessary because those metals are not going anyplace," he said.

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