Fort Detrick landfill testing turns up no traces of toxins

January 30, 1995|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

FREDERICK -- Preliminary analyses of soil from test trenches in a Fort Detrick landfill thought to be the main source of toxins tainting nearby wells reveal no traces of the expected chemicals, Army officials say.

During recent excavation of Pit 11, a trench where acids, solvents and chemicals likely were buried decades ago, Army and state officials were puzzled to find only normal refuse -- household waste, newspapers, burned timbers and soda cans.

They were expecting to find trichloroethylene, or TCE, a chemical widely used as a degreasing agent and now known to cause cancer in humans. Water from some of the residential wells tested above federal drinking water standards for TCE and perchloroethylene, also suspected to cause cancer.

"The possibility does exist that the solvents could have been there and have drained away," said David Hoffman, restoration manager for the Army Environmental Center.

But, he continued: "We found no connection to the contaminants found in nearby residential wells. That was the most likely area that we thought we would find TCE. Our tests don't show Pit 11 as the source of off-site contamination."

Final results of tests conducted at Pit 11, one of 17 areas under investigation, will be released at a meeting Feb. 9.

The Army is in the midst of a $3.3 million investigation of chemical contamination at the 1,200-acre facility in northwest Frederick. The work is being done by Environmental Resource Management, an Exeter, Pa. environmental consulting firm.

"We didn't find anything, but we are continuing to investigate to find the sources," said Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, which has been overseeing the work.

Army officials have been working to determine the extent of contamination at Fort Detrick since traces of TCE were found in the well water of homes adjacent to the post. All but one of the affected residents have since connected to city water or are using bottled water, Army officials said.

While studies have confirmed traces of TCE in ground water and other solvents in soil, officials have not yet determined the source of contamination or the flow of the contaminants.

Meanwhile, the MDE is looking at other potential sources for the contamination in and around Fort Detrick.

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