Curtis Bay yard notes the positive aspects of Superfund status

Oct. 2 hearing to address adding site to list

September 15, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

To those working at Baltimore's Coast Guard yard, the Environmental Protection Agency's recommendation to place the Curtis Bay facility on the nation's Superfund list of hazardous waste sites sounds worse than it is.

The designation might evoke images of such environmental wastelands as Love Canal, but being on the Superfund list means additional opportunities for government funding for cleanup and close monitoring from the EPA, said Capt. William Cheever, commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard yard.

"We don't consider ourselves a hazardous site," Cheever said. "There are some things that have been in the ground for years, and they have to be addressed. ... All it says is, we need further investigation, further study."

Cheever said yard officials have been discussing the site's placement on the Superfund list for a few months.

For about 10 years, Coast Guard officials have been assessing the contamination on the 113-acre facility, which is on the east side of Curtis Creek, over the city line in Anne Arundel County.

Samples that Coast Guard engineers collected recently from contaminated soil at the yard revealed traces of pesticides, degreasers, metals and polychlorinated biphenyls, said EPA spokesman David Sternberg.

The contamination, say Coast Guard officials, dates from World War II, when more than 3,000 employees worked round-the-clock at the yard, repairing and renovating ships used in the nation's defense. Their methods were abandoned in the 1950s, but the contamination that resulted remains under the dry docks and in at least five other areas.

The EPA is not recommending any new precautions for those who work or live near the base.

Studying the contamination has cost millions and proven difficult for the Coast Guard. During the past two years, the Coast Guard has spent more than $350,000 on its studies.

The EPA will hold a public hearing Oct. 2 to discuss the yard's proposed listing.

A 60-day public comment period began this week when the EPA made its announcement.

"It would not be unprecedented, but it would be highly unusual" for the EPA not to place one of its recommended sites on the list, Sternberg said.

One local exception is the Glen Burnie landfill. Anne Arundel County fought the EPA when it recommended the Dover Road site for Superfund status in the early 1990s. Although the site was put on the Superfund list, a federal judge ordered it removed in 1992.

Maryland's Superfund list includes more than 40 sites, including landfills, salvage yards and military bases.

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