APG asbestos disposal plan stirs anger

Harford residents consider facility's revival a danger

October 22, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

About 50 angry Harford County residents, worried about the Army's plan to set up a regional asbestos disposal plant at Aberdeen Proving Ground, gathered at the Edgewood Senior Center last night to hear details of how a private company would process tons of asbestos each year from military installations in nearby states.

Most of those at the meeting live in communities near APG, the Army's leading research and development center that is involved in equipment testing and related training of military personnel.

During the meeting, neighbors of the base expressed fears of an accident that could release cancer-causing asbestos into the air.

The residents sat patiently for about an hour listening to a technical explanation by Dennis Bolt, the project engineer, of how the plant would operate. But their mood suddenly changed when a woman in the back of the room shouted, "We don't want to see any more slides. We want answers to our questions."

Mark Jones, who lives in Joppa just outside the APG gate, set the tone of the meeting when he said, "This can be done anywhere in the nation; why is it being done in such a densely populated area?"

George Mercer, a spokesman for APG, which arranged last night's meeting, said last week that the asbestos project would involve reactivating a plant that operated on the post in 1996 and 1997. It used a chemical process to convert asbestos into a nonhazardous material that could be taken to a landfill.

Mercer said the facility was closed because it was not cost-effective.

Bolt told the crowd that with the existing disposal facilities, "we thought that this was the best location."

"Don't put this in anybody's back yard," Jones replied. "Take it out in the middle of a desert."

"My biggest concern is the transportation of this stuff through Harford County," County Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, a Joppa-Edgewood Democrat, said before the meeting. "The reason everybody is upset over this is that the project was snuck into our community. ... Our two senators and eight congressmen knew nothing about it."

Guthrie has arranged a second community meeting for Monday night.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral used in insulation and building products. It can cause health problems - including cancer and other lung diseases - if inhaled.

The Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center is planning to work with A-Conversion LLC of New York to reactivate the plant.

Bolt said the plant would process 3.9 million pounds of asbestos over nine months, then it would be shut down and the equipment sold.

Del. Mary-Dulany James, a Harford County Democrat, asked APG officials for an "iron-clad promise" on that timetable.

Mercer referred to the plant as an "asbestos conversion demonstration facility." The plant could begin operating within months and would employ about a dozen workers, he said.

Residents living near APG are no strangers to dealing with the disposal of hazardous materials. In recent years, the base has been involved in the destruction of mustard agent that has been stockpiled there since World War II.

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