APG facilities for analyzing hazardous materials may grow

April 07, 2005|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The Army wants to expand and upgrade facilities at Aberdeen Proving Ground where it receives and analyzes unknown and potentially hazardous items, such as chemicals found in roadside bombs in Iraq.

Congress has authorized $13 million for the proposed construction of the Sample Receipt Center at Aberdeen.

When the facility is completed in 2007, the military, FBI and other government agencies would have more capacity to have suspicious items tested to determine their threat to public safety.

"This is not new work," said Joan Michel, a spokeswoman for the Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), which would operate the facility. "It is work that we have been doing here for more than three decades."

Officials from ECBC held a public meeting last night at the Edgewood Senior Center to brief area residents on the center's plans. Seven people attended, including a county councilman, and none expressed opposition to the project.

Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, a Democrat who represents Joppa and Edgewood, said after the meeting that he supports the Edgewood plans.

"This is good for the security of our country," he said.

Before the meeting, Ray Mastnjak, manager of chemical biological support at ECBC, said the new center would combine work scattered among half a dozen buildings on the base into a "one-stop shop" that would speed up the Army's work.

Plans are to construct the 30,000-square-foot facility in the Aberdeen Proving Ground Edgewood Area.

Mastnjak said much of the Army's work in chemical and biological analysis is classified.

But he offered one example of such work. It involved receiving a small metal can with strange markings, found by the Army in Afghanistan.

The center determined that it contained red mercury which, if inhaled, can cause liver damage or death. "We believe it was somebody's attempt to make a dirty bomb," Mastnjak said.

Michel said that items coming to the facility would go through chemical, biological and radiological testing, but added that "no nuclear things come here."

She said there has been a big increase in demand for these services since the Sept. 11 attacks.

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