Safety, property values are concerns at Edgewood meeting on weapons cleanup

April 02, 1995|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

Robert and Amalia McVicker moved into their home next to Aberdeen Proving Ground on April 1, 1986. Yesterday, exactly nine years later, they were confused and angry -- wondering whether they had made a mistake.

They were among several hundred people who came to Edgewood High School to learn more about the Army's plans to remove an unknown number of old chemical weapons from a former testing and training area known as the Nike site. Some of the hundreds of nearby homes and three public schools along Willoughby Beach Road in Edgewood are within 1,500 feet of the area.

"What is my house worth now, anything?" Mr. McVicker asked.

Alan Parks bought a house near the Nike site a month ago. "I want to know how they are going to ensure the safety of my son and my family" during the cleanup, he said.

The Army planned the meeting, the first of three scheduled, to try to calm area residents and to explain the planned removal of chemical shells thought to contain mustard agent and phosgene, two potentially lethal substances.

Most residents learned of the cleanup in the past week, through media reports and letters from the Army.

The news has been painful for many residents worried about safety and property values. But it has forced a discussion of the difficulties involved in cleaning up decades-old environmental scars that have been compounded by housing growth around the huge base.

The Nike site is one of three U.S. locations where chemical weapons are known to be buried close to a large civilian population. Army officials are confident they can remove the shells safely.

In the next several weeks, the Army says it will search for more chemical shells that may be buried along the base's border with Edgewood. Since 1917, the Edgewood area of the base has been the U.S. military's center for chemical weapons research, and the Army manufactured large amounts of chemical munitions there until about 1950.

The Army, with help from local, state and federal agencies, is developing its plan for removing the shells at the Nike site without causing an explosion that could send a toxic cloud over Edgewood. The removal, to begin in about a year at an estimated cost of $4 million, may require temporary evacuations of some nearby residents as a precaution, Army officials say.

In a letter sent last week, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, urged Army Secretary Togo D. West to complete the cleanup quickly.

Because the Nike site is "so close to thousands of homes . . . and because the contamination is so serious, this situation requires your immediate, personal intervention," the senator wrote.


Aberdeen Proving Ground plans at least two more meetings on the Nike site cleanup and related issues for residents along its border with Edgewood:

* April 8 at Magnolia Elementary School, 901 Trimble Road in Joppa, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

* April 19 at Oliver Beach Elementary School, 12912 Cunning Hill Cove Road near Chase, from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

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