Area at Curtis Bay to be left

No need for cleanup under dry docks, Coast Guard says

June 27, 2007|By Dan Lamothe | Dan Lamothe,Sun Reporter

The Coast Guard plans to take no action to clean up the first of seven contaminated sites at its yard on Curtis Bay.

A proposed new remediation plan - the first completed for the Superfund site - found that though cyanide, lead and other dangerous substances remain in the sediment under dry docks on the property, the level are too low to warrant concern.

"It's an acceptable risk," Robert DeMarco, environmental engineer for the yard, said yesterday. "The numbers are decided by the [Environmental Protection Agency], and they're very conservative numbers."

DeMarco said he did not have test results yesterday, but the action plan for the dry docks will be discussed at a public meeting tomorrow night at the Coast Guard yard. The action plan is subject to change based on concerns raised by the public, officials said.

The dry dock area is one of seven contaminated locations at the 113-acre Coast Guard yard that led the EPA to designate it in 2002 as a Superfund site, adding it to the list of the most contaminated in the country.

The Curtis Bay yard opened in 1899, and its problems date back to at least World War II, when the facility provided industrial support for the Coast Guard. More than 3,000 employees worked at Curtis Bay during the war, designing, building and repairing ships and boats.

The EPA has said the Curtis Bay yard is contaminated with heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides and dioxins, which were used as a cleaner of ships' hulls and other industrial products for decades but are now known to be carcinogenic.

The dry dock portion of the yard was contaminated primarily by the sandblasting of boats' hulls, said Dottie Mitchell, communications manager for the yard.

"Some of the contaminants that were dumped in the ground then are leaking into the creek, and we don't want that," she said.

Robert H. Sprinkle, a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park and an expert on biopolitics, said that under the pressure of wartime, the military had little regard for the environment, and also did not consider the hazards for those sandblasting lead paint and other materials off the boat.

"The intention was to win the war and save the lives of sailors by making sure that the hulls of the ships were as slippery and fast as possible," Sprinkle said. "It's almost like a pit stop for a race car: If you can take pit stops during the race, you're more likely to win."

Rebecca Colberg, a member of the Coast Guard Yard Community Advisory Group for Curtis Bay, said she has been pleased with the Coast Guard's openness about the cleanup issue, but wishes it would be more open about contamination in Curtis and Marley creeks, which have been closed to human contact since the 1970s.

"My main question is: If we're going to rationalize reasons not to clean up the creek, how is it going to ever get cleaned up?" Colberg said. "I wonder whether, if these levels were found in any other river [not associated with the Superfund site], would they still be left unswimmable and unfishable?"

DeMarco said work on the second contaminated site at Curtis Bay, a salvage yard, is expected to begin this fall, when soil contaminated with lead and other heavy metals will be removed and taken to a secure landfill. A study on a third site, an incinerator at the yard, is planned, he said.

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Berry Hall on the Coast Guard Yard off Exit 1, Interstate 695.

daniel.lamothe@baltsun.com

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