Suing the Army

Our view : Fort Meade needs to pick up pace in pollution cleanup

August 21, 2008

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler is pushing the Pentagon to do the right thing - obey the law and comply with an Environmental Protection Agency order that it quickly complete a cleanup of serious pollution at Fort Meade. He's threatening to sue if the Army fails to act. The Pentagon's assurance that public health and safety are not imperiled as it cleans up the Superfund site at its own pace and with its own priorities is not credible.

The EPA issued the Fort Meade cleanup order last year because it was worried about drinking water and soil contamination from past dumping at the Anne Arundel County base. Contaminants including heavy metals, pesticides, explosives and arsenic have polluted soil and groundwater, according to EPA reports.

The Pentagon has agreed to sign EPA orders involving other military sites, but it disagrees with details of the Fort Meade order, including timing and the areas to be cleared. Defense Department officials insist there is no danger to the drinking water at Fort Meade. But the polluter doesn't get to make its own assessment of the danger and decide independently how the cleanup should be done. As Democratic Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees environmental issues, rightly put it: "In this case, we have DOD seeking to self-regulate, contrary to the law and the clear intent of Congress."

Pentagon officials will be called to account for their failure to comply with the EPA's order at a mid-September hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Maryland Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski called for the hearing after it was revealed last month that the Army was balking at the EPA order and Maryland was likely to have three military bases on the Superfund list. The EPA is moving to name Fort Detrick in Frederick County as a Superfund site; Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County is already on the list.

Maryland has long been a supportive host to military facilities across the state. Now, it is time for the Pentagon to show appropriate respect for the health and safety of Marylanders who work on or near these facilities.

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