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Officials say changes won't affect Superfund cleanups

May 30, 2007|by TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN - Money for the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund has fluctuated a bit since the fund was created in 1980, but local and federal officials say that shouldn't affect cleanup of three local sites on the Superfund list.

This September marks 10 years since 19 acres at the former Central Chemical site on Mitchell Avenue were placed on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List of Superfund hazardous waste sites because of pesticides and metal contaminates on the property.

Since then, local groups and students from a Virginia university have studied the site and suggested future uses for it once it's cleaned up.

But before the site could be cleaned up, officials had to find out exactly what was there, and how far the contamination spread.

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Sampling continues at the site as officials try to find out how far contamination of groundwater has gone, said Hagerstown Planning Director Kathleen Maher, who serves on a "community liaison panel" that is considering what the best new use for the site might be.

The panel meets every other month, and now is recommending to the EPA that the site be redeveloped for commercial and light industrial use, she said, perhaps with a business park similar to the Hagerstown Business Park off Burhans Boulevard.

"Now it's getting interesting because we're talking about what to do," Maher said.

Across the state line in Pennsylvania, two sites at Letterkenny Army Depot made the Superfund list in the late 1980s. About 200 acres in the original listing since have been found to be free of contaminants and now are being removed from the list, said Bryan Hoke, environmental coordinator for Base Realignment and Closure at Letterkenny. And while the EPA has oversight of the cleanup there, the Department of Defense has responsibility for it.

One of the reasons the cleanup at the Central Chemical site is taking so long is that so many parties are involved. Besides Central Chemical, there are at least two dozen other potentially responsible parties whose business with Central Chemical contributed to the contamination, many of whom have been involved in negotiations for cleaning it up.

But now, the process finally has reached the point where the site analysis is nearly finished and work on a feasibility study to evaluate five cleanup alternatives has begun, said Mitch Cron, the EPA's project manager.

"But so many people have to sign off on it ... the report just keeps pingponging back and forth," Maher said.

Hoke said he hopes to have a cleanup remedy at Letterkenny "in place by 2010."

In the 27 years since Congress approved legislation creating the Superfund, only 319 of the more than 1,500 sites ever listed have been removed from the priorities list, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, Washington-based organization of investigative journalism. Placement on the list makes a site eligible for money from the Superfund to help clean up the site, but the center reports money allocated to the Superfund is running out.

"It's still called the Superfund, but I don't think there's any money left," Maher said.

But although they're on the Superfund list, the Letterkenny sites are prohibited from getting that money anyway, EPA spokesman David Sternberg said. Money for the Letterkenny cleanup comes from the Defense Environmental Restoration Account, which pays for cleaning up military installations.

As for the Central Chemical site, the EPA gave the city a $100,000 grant several years ago to study redevelopment.

But Sternberg and Cron said most of the responsible parties have helped pay for the studies so far, and plan to pay for cleaning it up, and already have paid for razing the buildings there - which is how the Superfund law was designed to work in the first place, Sternberg said.

"There really is an incentive for the (responsible parties) to cooperate," Sternberg said, adding that most businesses would rather do it themselves. "We could collect costs and penalties if they don't."

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