Army, EPA sign contract to clean up Fort Detrick
74-page agreement likely available after Jan. 1; residents invited to comment
Residents are invited to comment on the contract Army officials signed Friday with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up chemical contaminants at Fort Detrick.
Bob Thomson, an engineer with EPA's federal facilities remediation office in Philadelphia, said copies of the 74-page contract will likely be available after Jan. 1.
One copy will be available at the post, he said, and the other at a public repository, but he did not say exactly where or how residents would be able to submit comments.
The agreement lays out a plan for the cleanup with timelines and fines attached, Thomson said.
The contract covers all of Fort Detrick, including 400 acres along Shookstown Road between Kemp Lane and Rosemont Avenue known as "Area B."
Area B groundwater was added to the Superfund list, a federal list of the most environmentally contaminated sites in the U.S., in 2008 because of the hazardous pollutants. Detrick was previously home to biodefense research, and Area B was the disposal area for chemical, biological and radiological materials.
Area B was also used as an outdoor testing area for airborne biological agents. Sterilized anthrax, radioactive carbon, sulfur, phosphorus and a lethal chemical agent marked as "phosgene" were reportedly buried at Area B, according to the agreement.
The scope of the Dec. 17 agreement expands the areas designated for cleanup to the entire base. It covers the "investigation, development, selection, and implementation of response actions for releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, contaminants, hazardous wastes, hazardous constituents or pollutants at or from the Site."
The agreement acknowledges the use of Agent Orange at Fort Detrick. When the stockpiles of Agent Orange were destroyed in 1973, waste was placed in a landfill at Area B.
The agreement gives the EPA an enforcement tool with the ability to fine the Army $5,000 for the first week and $10,000 a week for additional weeks that it does not comply with the terms of the agreement.
Testing for contaminants began as early as 1977, which determined that base activities could have resulted in releases of chemicals to the environment. Later testing found that despite the Army's attempts to decontaminate its facilities, there was still a potential for anthrax contamination in some areas, according to the findings of fact in the Dec. 17 agreement.
Though cleanup efforts have been under way for several years, some officials and residents were concerned that remediation efforts were not proceeding quickly enough.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) of Baltimore set a deadline more than three months ago to finalize the Federal Facilities Agreement, according to Sue Walitsky, his spokeswoman.
"The problems at Fort Detrick and cleaning up chemical contaminants has been going on for some time, but the fact that it has taken so long was a concern for the senator," Walitsky said. "He had set a Dec. 1 deadline three months ago, but is pleased that the agreement was signed before the end of the year."
Detrick is still evaluating the final price tag for cleaning up the base, according to Detrick spokesman Robert Sperling. Officials said at a briefing in July that the fort has spent $43 million to date cleaning up the contamination.