EPA orders cleanup of Meade waste sites

Army must rid base of buried pollutants

August 28, 2007|By Tom Pelton and Bradley Olson | Tom Pelton and Bradley Olson,SUN REPORTERS

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the Army yesterday to clean up 14 hazardous-waste sites at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

The sites include former ammunition dumps, landfills, shooting ranges and buildings where hundreds of drums of fuel and other pollutants were buried on the Army post, prompting fines from Maryland's environmental agency.

The contaminants - including heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, explosives and arsenic - have been in the ground for decades, and some have seeped into underground water supplies, the EPA said.

On Superfund list

The 13,500-acre base has been on the EPA's list of high-priority Superfund cleanup sites since 1998. The agency has long struggled to agree with the Army about the scope of the cleanup, said Robert Stroud, the EPA's project manager at Fort Meade.

The Army has contended that it had to clean up four locations on the post - two landfills, a former laundry facility and the site of an office building - to be removed from the list.

The EPA has said for years that the Army would have to investigate and clean up many more sites. Yesterday's order requires the Army to clean up 14 pollution sites on the post. Three more locations in the nearby Patuxent Research Refuge are being discussed.

Environmentalists praised the EPA for taking firm action after nearly a decade of what they considered inadequate responses from the Army to the base's pollution problems.

"It's stunning," said environmental advocate Fred Tutman, the Patuxent Riverkeeper. "Some of these lands have been poisoned for quite some time, and they didn't seem to be doing anything to clean it up."

Rena Steinzor, a professor of environmental law at the University of Maryland, said it's "very unusual" for the EPA to impose an order on the Army because the federal government has taken the position that one branch of the federal government can't sue another. As a result, the EPA has often backed down when confronting the military about its pollution, Steinzor said.

`Extremely rare'

"Historically, this is extremely rare," she said.

Summer Barkley, a spokeswoman for Fort Meade, said the Army has been "committed to environmental stewardship. ... We will work closely with the EPA to resolve the issues they have raised in this order."

Stroud said the Army has been cooperating with the EPA to clean up pollution at the base over the past nine years. "This just creates a legal framework for them to continue [the cleanup] they are doing," Stroud said.

The cleanup effort has cost the Army $80 million and is likely to cost about $100 million when the project is completed within two to three years, Stroud said.

The cleanup could include digging up contaminated soil with backhoes.Water beneath the base has been contaminated with fuel and pesticides, though the pollutants are closer to the surface than the level that is used for drinking water by base personnel and neighbors, Stroud said.

"Now, they will have to clean it up correctly," said Zoe Draughon, chairwoman of a public oversight board that has been monitoring the cleanup.

tom.pelton@baltsun.com bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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