New environmental lab chases pollution scofflaws

High-tech EPA facility to test air, water, soil

April 19, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

The newest high-tech addition to the west county technology corridor opens today when the Environmental Protection Agency dedicates a new laboratory meant to snag environmental polluters.

Environmental sleuths -- investigators, scientists and lab technicians -- will work out of the $47 million Environmental Science Center on Mapes Road in Fort Meade. Air, water and soil samples can be tested in 70 laboratories for chemical and biological contaminants, said Donna M. Heron, an EPA spokeswoman.

"Water samples from places like the Chesapeake will be tested for pollutants, and then the investigators will work to determine where it came from," she said. "There will be about 150 people working out of the lab."

The Environmental Science Center replaces outdated buildings and equipment, and consolidates six EPA labs in Annapolis, Beltsville, Cincinnati and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.

The center will handle cases from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the District of Columbia, she said. Investigators will collect and test samples from those states as well as looking into complaints made to the EPA.

For example, Garden State Tanning -- a leather tanning company in Williamsport, Md. -- was recently fined $54,900 by the EPA for dumping fecal coliform, ammonia and chlorine into the Potomac River as well as for malfunctioning treatment equipment. The EPA also cited the company for dumping pollutants into Conoccocheague Creek, Heron said.

EPA investigators were tipped off to that case when a passer-by noticed a slimy, brown substance floating down the Potomac and called to complain, Heron said.

Investigators at the EPA lab also will test new hospital disinfectants' ability to kill germs.

"They are also going to be heavily involved in that," Heron said.

Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski will attend today's 11 a.m. opening ceremony.

Pub Date: 4/19/99

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