Citizens group examines Fort Meade landfill sites

April 30, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

For two decades, the Army set aside 90 acres at Fort Meade to raise animals for research at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

But when the farm was shut down in 1987, no one bothered to clean up the site. Today, in one area the size of a baseball field, syringes, buckets and an 8-inch can of ringworm medicine sit rusting in the middle of trees and a wetland now part of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

"This is ridiculous," Zoe B. Draughon said yesterday.

She and other members of a Fort Meade citizen advisory board got a firsthand look at the former farm and nine other sites that the federal government designated for cleanup. The board, formed this month, will make recommendations about clearing contaminated landfills and other dump sites on almost 9,000 acres being given away as part of the base realignment process.

Of all the areas visited, the former Walter Reed farm drew the most concern. It was the most cluttered site, with medical waste as well as car parts, beer cans and bottles.

Fort Meade officials said there is no evidence that research was conducted on the animals themselves when the farm was operating, from about the mid-1960s to 1987.

But board members weren't so sure. "With the word 'medical waste' -- that's a scary term. It could be a 20-year vial of urine in it or it could be something else," said Tom Fosler, a Severn resident. "The problem is the surface junk doesn't determine what's underneath."

Added Ms. Draughon: "I'm calling Walter Reed Monday to find out what kind of tests were done here."

During the four-hour tour, Fort Meade officials drove advisory board members around in vans and led them on foot to inspect each site. Many areas were former landfills dating to the 1940s.

In many cases, trees and grass had grown over the landfills. From a distance, it was impossible to tell they were dumps.s But up close, rusting canisters, car parts and unnatural mounds of dirt came into view.

For decades, the government didn't have strict regulations on getting rid of waste. But now that Fort Meade has given 8,100 acres to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and in October will lease the 366-acre Tipton Army Airfield to Anne Arundel and Howard counties, the government has decided to clean up.

The concern is that rusting objects and chemicals used at these sites -- and whatever is buried -- will contaminate ground water. Another worry is that the land given away once was part of Fort Meade's training area, where unexploded mortar, grenades and other rocket projectiles can be found.

Advisory board members, including many who have lived near Fort Meade a long time, were surprised to see how large the base was and what went on there. They said the board offers a way to help them understand the base and help clean it up.

"I live right next to the property," said Al Tilghman of Severn. "I'm concerned if there is pollution. I want to know about it.

"I want to retain as much [of] the environment for the future. We want to clean up this mess -- for you and your children."

Among other environmental concerns:

* Firefighting training areas on or near the airfield, where firefighters practiced putting out fires. Excess aviation fuel or gasoline was used to start fires that were extinguished with water, foam or other firefighting agents. The concern is that chemical waste could contaminate the ground water.

* Inactive landfills. Landfills, totaling 89 acres, were active from the 1940s to the 1980s. Some were used as rubble dumps and others for miscellaneous waste such as appliances, garbage, bottles and food. The concern is that chemicals and metals found in the landfills could contaminate ground and surface water.

* Unexploded ordnance. About 16,000 pieces of unexploded artillery were found on land given to the wildlife center and airfield acreage that will be given to Anne Arundel and Howard.

* A helicopter hangar on the airfield. Aviation fuel and other oils used to fix helicopters may have run off and into the ground. Underground storage tanks outside the hangar have leaked petroleum into the soil. The concern is that the petroleum products could contaminate the ground water.

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