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Maryland to seek Superfund status for Fort Detrick dump site

June 18, 2008

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) -- Maryland's environmental secretary, hoping to speed the cleanup of ground water tainted by an old Army dump, has asked federal regulators to add the site at Fort Detrick to a list of the nation's most polluted places.

The Army says it has spent $43 million since 1992 to remove industrial and laboratory waste dumped decades ago in unlined trenches, but it has yet to clean up the contaminated ground water.

In a letter dated June 4, Department of the Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to add the site known as Area B to the Superfund program's National Priorities List by July 4, The Frederick News-Post reported Wednesday.

"The continued delay perpetuates the unacceptably long timeline that this investigation continues to take," Wilson wrote.

Adding Area B to the list would enable the state to "move forward with alternative forms of action, if necessary," Wilson wrote. She didn't specify the possible actions.

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Wilson also wrote that despite state requests and the recommendation of a cleanup advisory board in 1999, the Army has never completed a comprehensive review of the water contamination.

The EPA is considering the state's request but hasn't made a decision, agency spokeswoman Roxanne Smith said in an e-mail.

Fort Detrick's Environmental Management Office said in a written statement that it expects to finish work in the near future on 41 of 42 sites targeted for cleanup. The 42nd site is the groundwater contamination, the agency said.

In April, the Army announced a renewed effort to find and test private wells near Area B for possible contamination.

Fort Detrick is home to the military's biological warfare defense program. In the 1940s through the 1960s, workers dumped chemical and biological wastes in unlined trenches at Area B.

In 1991, test wells detected industrial solvents in the water running beneath Area B. The chemicals were identified as trichloroethylene, a metal degreaser linked to liver tumors, and tetrachloroethylene, a dry-cleaning solvent that is a suspected carcinogen. A number of private wells near the post also were contaminated, prompting the Army to connect at least seven homes to public water lines.

From 1997 to 1999, the levels of contamination reached 20,000 parts per billion of TCE and PCE. Anything higher than 5 parts per billion violates federal standards.

In 2004, the Army finished removing about 3,500 tons of contaminated soil, drums, laboratory vials and cylinders from four pits at Area B, but lacked funding to clean up the ground water. Since then, contamination levels in the ground water have fallen sharply, installation spokesman Chuck Gordon said in April.

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On the Net:

Maryland Department of the Environment: http://www.mde.state.md.us

Fort Detrick: http://www.detrick.army.mil

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