Lockheed says tainted soil must be removed

Tests find toxic `hot spots' on Middle River site

March 30, 2006|By TIMOTHY B. WHEELER | TIMOTHY B. WHEELER,SUN REPORTER

Most of the vacant land surrounding the missile and aircraft parts assembly plants at Lockheed Martin Corp.'s sprawling Middle River complex will need to be cleaned of toxic contamination before the property can be redeveloped, company officials said this week.

After months of environmental testing, company officials say they believe 15,000 cubic yards of soil need to be hauled away because "hot spots" on the site are tainted with petroleum compounds, toxic metals and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, a hazardous chemical once used as an insulator in power equipment.

The soil removal could be completed within one to two years if the Maryland Department of the Environment approves, company officals said. Lockheed Martin applied last year to enter the state's voluntary cleanup program, which could streamline the company's path to redeveloping the site.

Lockheed Martin officials said they had no immediate plans for the property, though company representatives have talked in the past with local officials and community leaders about building a hotel, waterfront boardwalk, housing and shops.

"No final decisions have been made on the future of the excess property," company spokesman Jim Gring said in an e-mail. He said the company is weighing "a number of options," including continued industrial use, creation of a park, and a mixture of residential and commercial development.

First, however, the company must get approval from the state of its assessment of the extent of contamination and its plans for dealing with it. The company intends to file its test results with MDE by the end of the week.

Besides the tainted soil, the groundwater beneath the property also will need to be treated, company officials reported. Tests found machinery-cleaning solvents such as trichloroethylene seeping through the ground in two relatively narrow plumes from the center of the site toward Cow Pens Creek and Dark Head Cove, which border the tract on two sides. Petroleum byproducts like benzene were found in a few places in groundwater as well, which officials attributed to leaks from old fuel storage tanks.

Cleanup of the groundwater could take from five to 20 years, depending on the remediation technique chosen, said Gail Rymer, the company's director of environmental communications.

Although benzene is a carcinogen and the other compounds are also toxic, they pose no significant risk to the 600 Lockheed Martin workers or to nearby residents, according to Tina Armstrong, senior environmental remediation manager for the company's East Coast operations.

The tainted soil is underneath buildings or pavement or in areas fenced off from access, she explained, and workers and residents drink publicly supplied water.

Even so, further testing is planned, Armstrong said, to ensure that workers are not being exposed to toxic vapors that might seep into basements from the soil and groundwater. More testing also is needed to be sure that contaminated groundwater is not seeping beneath the waterways to nearby residential areas, she said.

The company plans to ask the state's approval to do nothing on a portion of the site. Testing has found that about 22 acres are clean enough to build homes there, and another 66 acres are clean enough for continued industrial use, Armstrong said.

But company officials acknowledged they may be required by the state to clean up toxic contaminants in Cow Pens Creek and Dark Head Cove. Tests found sediments along the bank are fouled with metals, PCBs and toxic byproducts of fuel burning. Anglers are already advised by the state to limit their consumption of fish caught in the entire Middle River watershed because of PCB levels in the animals' flesh.

Local officials and community leaders said they were satisfied with Lockheed Martin's approach so far to the contamination. The contamination was first disclosed last year.

"They really seem to be putting the right effort forward," said County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder. "And this is the time to do it -- now, not when it's a problem."

"They're doing a job of trying to get it straightened out," said Jack Schultz, president of the Wilson Point Civic Improvement Association. "They've been on the up and up with us since the beginning."

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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