Army unveils plan to reduce threat from APG 'hot spots' Burn pits to be covered, lead-tainted soil removed

August 14, 1996|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Army officials have unveiled a plan to reduce environmental threats from a chemical weapons burning site at Aberdeen Proving Ground by excavating "hot spots" of contamination and covering the area with dirt.

The proposal, which has the tentative backing of state environmental officials, seeks to reduce the effects of heavy metals contamination at the tip of the proving ground's Edgewood Area peninsula.

A blanket of soil at least two feet deep would be spread over nine acres of the "burn pits" area on a site known as J Field. The "pits" -- actually more like trenches -- were primarily used as sites to burn sludge left over from the production of mustard gas from the 1940s to the 1960s.

The $2 million project would include removing pockets of lead-tainted soil for disposal at an out-of-state hazardous waste dump -- a move that the head of an environmental watchdog group called a late, but welcome, addition to the plan.

"I was very pleased that they are now going to excavate the lead contamination. I feel that's a victory for the community," said Helen M. Richick of Joppa, director of the APG Superfund Citizens Coalition and member of an advisory board on proving ground cleanup issues. "It didn't make any sense to leave the heavy lead contamination in the soil."

John Fairbank, an official in the state Department of the Environment who monitors cleanup efforts at federal Superfund sites, said his department must await the end of a public comment period before formally approving the Army plan. "It does reduce risks at the site," he said.

Rachel McDonald, an APG spokeswoman, said human contact with the remote, waterfront area is limited to workers who wear protective clothing and the few trespassers who ignore warning signs. McDonald and Fairbank said the cleanup also is aimed at reducing the threat to birds who eat earthworms that may be poisoned by the tainted soil.

The plan was presented at a sparsely attended hearing Monday night in Edgewood. Responding to concerns raised at that meeting, Army officials will add specific assurances that they will address contamination at "push-out" areas where burned material was piled, McDonald said.

A public comment period on the proposal ends Aug. 23, McDonald said. Army officials will then present their plan for approval by state and federal authorities.

Pub Date: 8/14/96

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