APG criticized over policies tied to cleanup

Panel says post withholds contaminants information

`It really jeopardizes the trust'

Officials see wells' details as possible security risk

September 29, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

An environmental group that monitors cleanup projects at Aberdeen Proving Ground has lashed out at APG officials, saying security policies are preventing group members from receiving complete and accurate information about contaminants on the post.

Members of the Restoration Advisory Board, made up of members of the community, Harford County government, Maryland Department of the Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, say that in several instances in recent months, they have been denied access to maps showing ground-water contamination and the location of 11 production wells for the city of Aberdeen, which sit along the post boundary.

"It's very frustrating," said advisory board member Cal Baier-Anderson. "When they remove maps with contamination on it - even if they remove those maps in error - it really jeopardizes the trust between the Army and the community."

Meanwhile, post officials say that the maps could pose a security risk - and provide valuable information to terrorists.

Wrangling over the maps follows the discovery of perchlorate - a chemical that disrupts thyroid function and has been linked to thyroid cancer - in some wells. The proving ground has said that some types of smoke flares and smoke grenades used in training exercises contained the chemicals.

For decades, the proving ground has been a center for weapons research, development and testing. Today, the legacy of that work includes a stockpile of more than 1,600 tons of mustard agent and areas where the Army is searching for buried grenades, mortars and rockets that could contain mustard, phosgene and other dangerous agents.

In recent months, residents have focused much of their attention on the perchlorate issue.

The inconsistency in what information is being withheld "has raised the ire of this group," board member Mandi Elliott-Bird said at a meeting with proving ground officials Thursday night.

When asked why information available months ago was suddenly being withheld, Joe Kaffl, chief of operational security, said the information policies being used were adopted in April 2000, but that enforcement has been inconsistent.

Kaffl said communications had failed between his office and the Installation Restoration Program, which oversees proving ground cleanup projects.

He added, however, that maps often show information - buildings and secondary roads, for example - that could be helpful to terrorists. Showing the location of production wells also is a risk, he said, because a terrorist could use the information to contaminate the drinking water.

But Steven Hirsh of the EPA pointed out that "the production wells are one of the most important things to all of us" since the recent discovery of perchlorate in four wells.

Monitoring difficult

Monitoring perchlorate contamination is difficult, he said, when the Army is trying to withhold needed information.

Some members suspect that the Army could be withholding information on perchlorate deliberately, because the Department of Defense issued a memorandum in July saying it would not authorize cleanup "beyond sampling and analysis" until a regulatory limit for perchlorate in drinking water is adopted by the EPA.

"Given what they're censoring, it's very difficult not to come to the conclusion that they're trying to censor the contamination," said Baier-Anderson, who is technical adviser to the APG Superfund Citizens Coalition.

Col. Mardi U. Mark, deputy installation commander, said the Department of Defense does not intend to stop investigations into perchlorate.

"We're just as concerned about it as everyone else," Mark said. "We have a great partnership with the community and the RAB. I think it's just something we need to work through."

Increased security

Mark added that since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, APG is reviewing more closely information that is released to the public.

Perchlorate was discovered in ground water within 300 feet of the town's 11 supply wells this spring. The exact location and extent of the contamination are not known.

In June, perchlorate was found in Well 9, and town officials shut it down. Subsequent weekly tests since have found perchlorate in three other wells at levels ranging from 1.2 parts per billion to 4.3 parts per billion.

The most recent tests, on Sept. 17, showed perchlorate in Well 3, which is not on the post, at 1.4 parts per billion; Well 8 at 1.2 parts per billion; and Well 10 at 1.8 parts per billion, according to an update issued last week by APG. The laboratory cannot detect concentrations less than 1 part per billion.

Although the EPA is studying a perchlorate limit, none has been issued. The state has directed the town of Aberdeen to use 1 part per billion as the limit in monitoring its drinking water.

Meeting with official

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