Harford residents worry about plan for asbestos disposal plant

Possible APG operation generates health worries

October 17, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Harford County residents are concerned that the Army's plan to open a plant at Aberdeen Proving Ground to dispose of asbestos from military installations in Maryland and surrounding states could contaminate the air with cancer-causing fibers.

"They [the Army] have not convinced us that all the safety conditions are in place to avoid asbestos from getting into the air," said County Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, a Democrat who represents the Joppa and Edgewood areas.

As a result, Guthrie has scheduled a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Edgewood Senior Center, 1000 Gateway Drive, to address citizens' concerns.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Sunday's editions incorrectly quoted Robert D. Dillon, president of the Joppa Magnolia Civic Association, on the amount of asbestos that would be handled by a disposal plant proposed at Aberdeen Proving Ground. He said it would handle 5 million pounds a year, not tons.
The Sun regrets the errors.

It will be the second session in five days on plans for a New York company to reactivate a plant on base that would use chemicals to reduce the asbestos to a harmless sand-like material.

APG will hold its own public information meeting on the plan at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, also at the senior center.

"We have set up the meeting ... to allow neighbors to present their concerns and comments," said George Mercer, a spokesman for the military installation that is the county's largest employer with more than 15,000 jobs. "And we will try to address them."

`A lot of asbestos'

"My biggest concern is the transportation of this stuff," Guthrie said. "That will be the focus of my meeting.

"I'm concerned about the trucks that will be carrying this stuff along county roads in plastic bags," Guthrie said. "It will be coming into the county from a number of states. What happens if there's an accident? Can it be released into the air? Can it become airborne?"

Robert D. Dillon, president of the Joppa Magnolia Civic Association, had other concerns. "I'm worried about the school kids in that area," he said. "That plant will handle 5 million tons of asbestos a year. That's a lot of asbestos."

Dillon, who said he lives less than a mile from the site, added: "Magnolia Middle School is about a mile away. The Magnolia Elementary School is about a mile and a tenth away from the plant. Riverside Elementary is within a mile and two-tenths. This is not the right place to have such an operation."

Ruth Ann Young of Aberdeen expressed her concern about the security of such an operation. She worries that a terrorist organization could plant a bomb on one of the trucks hauling the asbestos. "Each truck going into the base would be like a Trojan horse," she said.

Young is a retired school guidance counselor who serves on the Restoration Advisory Board at APG, a group involved with the cleanup of contamination on the base. She said the plant would collect asbestos from Defense Department facilities in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

New attempt

Although the Army refers to the plant as an "asbestos conversion demonstration facility," Young said the company's application for a permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment indicates it would be operating for at least five years.

Mercer said A-Conversion LLC of New York would operate the plant in conjunction with the Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at APG. He said the operation is designed to determine the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of converting asbestos into nontoxic products.

Mercer said a similar plant was operated on the base in 1996 and 1997. The plant was successful in reducing asbestos to a nonhazardous material that could be taken to a landfill, he said, but was not cost-effective.

According to Mercer, the new attempt would be a larger operation that would seek to take advantage of economies of scale in hope of being profitable.

Mercer could not say how long the demonstration would last, but he did not expect it to go beyond a year.

He said the plant could begin operating within a couple of months and would employ about a dozen workers.

Position of caution

Judy Blomquist, president of Friends of Harford, said the grass-roots organization that tracks growth issues in the county has not taken a position on the project.

But the group has serious concerns, she said.

In a letter to APG officials, she listed 20 questions about the asbestos operation that citizens want answered.

She asked that if the demonstration project proves successful, could residents be assured that the plant would not operate beyond the test period?

Blomquist asked whether there might be a better place for the project than in the heavily populated Edgewood area.

"The position of Friends of Harford," she said, "is one of caution. We want to know if anybody would be hurt by this process. We want to know if there is a danger in transporting the asbestos. We want to know where the final product will go."

Young also expressed her concern about the chemicals to be used in the process.

"This is not the right place for this process," she said. "It should be farther from our homes."

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