Aberdeen gets Army OK for mustard agent plan Disposal method needs approvals from state, EPA

September 30, 1998|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

The Army approved yesterday Aberdeen Proving Ground's plan to destroy its stockpile of World War II-era mustard agent by removing the deadly blistering agent from its metal containers -- into near boiling water, neutralizing it and dumping it in the Bush River.

Initial plans had called for incinerating the mustard, but citizen opposition prompted the Army to seek a less offensive alternative, and Aberdeen's Edgewood facility has worked for years to gain federal and state approvals for its experimental disposal plan.

In June, the program manager for chemical disposal at Aberdeen completed and filed an inch-thick assessment of the plan's potential impact on the community and the environment.

Yesterday, Raymond J. Fatz, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and occupational health, approved the environmental impact statement and gave Aberdeen the Army's blessing for the project.

Fatz wrote that his decision took into account some residents' concerns about the project expressed at public hearings and in letters, but that the proposal "provides maximum protection to the environment, the general public and workers at the facility."

Aberdeen must gain permits from the Maryland Department of the Environment and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

pTC Mickey Morales, spokesman for the U.S. program manager for chemical demilitarization, said Aberdeen hoped to get the permits in three to four months, award a contract for the design and construction of a small complex of buildings, totaling 130,000 square feet, in the spring and begin building it next fall.

The facility would begin disposal by 2003 and complete it in about a year.

Leftover mustard gas from the 1940s is stored at eight Army bases, including Aberdeen. In 1988, the Army decided not to risk transporting the gas and to burn it at each of the eight sites. In 1996, the Army -- with input from a Maryland Citizens' Advisory Committee -- decided to seek alternatives to incineration at Aberdeen and to allow Aberdeen to create a pilot facility that, if successful, could be replicated at other sites.

Workers would roll a one-ton steel container into a warehouse and punch a hole in the side of the thick cylinder. Then they would insert a hose and suck out the mustard agent.

Containers would roll into another building, where high-pressure hoses would blast them clean, while the mustard was mixed with near-boiling water to neutralize it.

Bacteria would be mixed in to help the mustard biodegrade. The remaining sludge would be shipped to a landfill and the neutralized water dumped into the Bush River.

Residents who began fighting the Army's incineration plans in 1988 support the Army's experimental project as a much safer alternative.

"We were positive from the beginning that we didn't want incineration," said George Englesson, former mayor of Aberdeen and manager of the New Ideal Diner, who co-chairs the citizen's advisory committee. "Surprisingly, the Army agreed to find another way."

Pub Date: 9/30/98

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