Workers find two mysterious canisters inside 'concrete blob' at proving ground

March 20, 1996|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN STAFF

Two mysterious canisters were discovered last month at an Aberdeen Proving Ground cleanup site, and base officials are asking the Navy to use high-tech equipment to find out what's inside.

Workers found the two 5-gallon canisters Feb. 21, lodged inside a 4-by-8-foot piece of concrete at the 26th Street mediation site near the Bush River.

"They took radiological, chemical and biological" tests, said proving ground spokesman John Yaquiant. "They got no readings for anything."

Navy technicians will use X-ray equipment to peer inside the canisters as early as this week, he said, adding that the canisters are in a secure area.

The discovery has raised questions about why the public was not notified.

"They should be briefing the Restoration Advisory Board," said Helen Richick, co-chairman of the 20-member board, which oversees APG cleanup efforts and includes citizens, state and federal government officials. The board meets with proving ground officials the last Thursday of every month and should have been notified about the canisters, she said, adding, "I don't understand why, because this is sort of serious."

"Right now, we don't even know if we've got anything," Mr. Yaquiant said. "We try to keep the board involved. We don't like raising red flags if none are to be raised."

Foster Wheeler Co., a contractor, has been cleaning up the quarter-acre site, not far from where the Army stores 1,500 tons of mustard agent, for two years. The site was used as a dumping area by the Army until the 1970s, said Ted Henry, a University of Maryland technical consultant to the APG Superfund Citizens Coalition.

Mr. Yaquiant said workers found the "concrete blob" last summer and opened it last week to reveal two blue canisters, similar to the type the Army used in the 1950s for storing radioactive materials.

One source said a Foster Wheeler supervisor used a jackhammer to break open the concrete shell without any monitoring equipment or other precautions. Foster Wheeler officials could not be reached last night.

"I'm concerned about that," said Ms. Richick. "Anytime they do intrusive work, they should have monitoring equipment."

Mr. Yaquiant said an APG environmental official "saw no problem with the way Foster Wheeler was handling this."

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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