APG meeting on health survey today

August 19, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

Representatives of five state and federal environmental agencies are to meet in Baltimore today with a Joppa-based citizens' group to debate the merits of a proposed independent health survey of communities around Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"I've gotten a reading that the Army is going to come out very strongly against any off-site survey," said Michael Morrill, an aide to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who organized the meeting.

The citizens' group, the Aberdeen Proving Ground Superfund Citizens' Coalition, fears that chemical contamination is spreading beyond the 72,000-acre base -- into drinking water, air, soil and fish -- but the Army and regulators say there is no evidence yet that pollutants are threatening public health.

In addition to proving ground staff, officials from the Army Environmental Hygiene Agency, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the Maryland Department of the Environment are to attend today's meeting.

The citizens say that a complete characterization of the proving ground's contamination will take decades and that a concurrent health study would help identify public exposures and allow steps to be taken to stop them.

They want an Army-financed study to include interviews with doctors in Baltimore, Harford and Kent counties, searches of medical data bases and surveys of residents about possible patterns of illnesses typically associated with environmental contamination.

"To absolutely stonewall the health survey is unacceptable," said Rena Steinzor, director of the University of Maryland's Environmental Law Clinic in Baltimore. The clinic and UM toxicologists are advising the citizens' group.

Aberdeen has begun one of the most extensive environmental cleanups at any U.S. military installation, one that is expected to cost about $1 billion over the next 15 years.

"As you can appreciate, the surveys requested by the [citizens' group] have a very wide scope with possible precedent-setting implications for the Army," said Maj. Gen. Richard W. Tragemann, the proving ground commander, in a letter dated Aug. 10 to Army Surgeon General Alcide M. LaNoue. The letter sought the surgeon general's opinion on the health survey.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the U.S. Public Health Service, which recently examined contamination at the proving ground, concluded that more extensive health studies are not warranted.

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