Nike site neighbors seek better emergency plan They want more notice of weapons cleanup

March 01, 1996|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,SUN STAFF

Calling Aberdeen Proving Ground's emergency preparedness plans "inadequate," community activists are insisting on a better warning system for nearby residents.

Ted Henry, a representative of the Aberdeen Proving Ground Superfund Citizens Coalition, released documents at a community meeting last night detailing concerns about unexploded ordnance at the so-called Nike site. About 60 people attended the session.

Neighbors of the Edgewood Area of APG long have contended that the 72,000-acre military base is not doing enough to keep them informed of plans to clean up unexploded chemical weapons. APG plans to begin searching for the buried weapons in early spring in preparation for removal.

Mr. Henry said the coalition wants APG to leave the site alone until emergency plans can be coordinated with the county and residents.

Hundreds of homes and three schools are within one-half mile of the 300-acre Nike site -- named for the Nike missiles stored there during the Cold War. The Edgewood Area of APG was used by the Army to test chemical weapons from 1920 to 1951. The number and location of buried, unexploded weapons is unknown.

Before the meeting, Katherine Squibb, a professor of toxicology at the University of Maryland, said APG needs to notify citizens when the sweeps are planned, perhaps through a weekly leaflet.

"Residents should have the option of taking their children and leaving the area," she said.

Dr. Squibb's studies are funded partly by a $100,000 annual grant that Helen Richick, executive director of the coalition, receives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to monitor safety conditions at APG.

The base deems it unnecessary to alert residents because APG is only searching for the weapons and has no plans to detonate them, said spokesman George Mercer.

But accidents happen, contends Dr. Squibb. "It makes sense that the more times these sites are disturbed, the more likely it is that mustard agent or phosgene could be released," she said.

APG contends that an accident is unlikely. Should there be an emergency, the base would alert the county which would be responsible for alerting citizens, the APG spokesman said.

Harford issues disaster instructions to all residents through a yearly calendar and regular mailings, said Harford County spokesman George Harrison. There are no special instructions for APG's neighbors, he said.

But Dr. Squibb said, "Residents need to know that if toxic fumes are released they should stay indoors and seal the house as tightly as possible, placing damp cloths in front of their doors and windows."

The four schools nearest the Nike site have been outfitted with "safe rooms," supposedly impervious to toxic fumes. They are Deerfield and Edgewood elementaries, and Edgewood middle and high schools.

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