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Coast Guard finishes cleanup of Curtis Bay Superfund site

U.S. Environmental Protection AgencyEnvironmental CleanupEnvironmental PoliticsU.S. Coast Guard

After nearly a dozen years, $16 million and the removal of some 50,000 tons of contaminated dirt, the Coast Guard declared the Superfund site at the Coast Guard Yard south of Baltimore cleaned and ready for duty Thursday.

The yard landed on the Superfund list — a national registry of sites designated for federally supervised cleanup — after a century of building and repairing ships. Blasting paint off ships, storing oil and batteries, burning waste and dumping bilge left the ground polluted with dioxin, pesticides, metals, PCBs and other contaminants — some of which spilled into nearby Arundel Cove and Curtis Creek.

"This is a big one, because it's an industrial facility," said Rear Adm. Ronald J. Rabago, the Coast Guard's chief engineer. "Many years ago, people didn't understand what happened when oil went into the ground."

During a ceremony Thursday, officials with the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement that marks the completion of the 11-year cleanup and starts the process of getting the 113-acre property off the Superfund list, officially called the National Priorities List. The Curtis Bay site is the only Coast Guard ship repair yard in the nation and will remain a Coast Guard facility.

The process of cleaning up the site started in the 1980s and 1990s, when the Coast Guard studied the extent of the problem. The Coast Guard Yard was put on the Superfund list in 2002.

Over the years, the Coast Guard worked with state and federal environmental officials to figure out the best ways to clean up the contamination, which was spread across nine parcels at the yard.

At an unpaved salvage yard that once stored drums of lubrication oil, lead acid batteries and transformers, about 2,900 tons of soil were excavated. At a pit that was used to burn oil, metal and waste in the 1940s through 1960s, 6,700 cubic yards of soil were removed and an oxygen-release compound was injected into the ground to treat groundwater.

The final site, dubbed "Site 9," is an area along Arundel Cove where workers once placed bilge spoils from ships. The spoils likely leaked through an old metal bulkhead into the water. There, crews dredged sediment from the cove and removed soil from the ground. The site is being turned into a parking and storage area.

Officials said a few of the parcels, including a tract where paint was blasted off ships and a spot where underground tanks once held acid but were later cleaned out, were determined not to pose an imminent risk to human health so no cleanup was done.

Cmdr. John Barresi, the yard's facilities engineer, said the cleanup work was done to residential rather than less-strict industrial standards to ensure that the property could be used safely in the event it someday is no longer a Coast Guard site.

"We wanted future generations to have a clean site," he said.

The completion of the cleanup will not result in changes in the day-to-day efforts to keep the Coast Guard's fleet in tip-top shape at Curtis Bay. Officials said the nearly 675 employees have adopted environmentally-friendly practices to prevent further contamination.

Paint is removed from ships with pressurized water without chemicals or abrasives. The yard is home to a facility that burns methane from a nearby landfill to produce energy.

"The yard's culture is to take care of what we have and do it efficiently and effectively," said Rabago, who was stationed at Curtis Bay when the yard was put on the Superfund list.

Shawn Garvin, regional administrator for the EPA, praised the Coast Guard for working with environmental officials on the cleanup. The site's dozen years on the Superfund list is relatively short compared with many that have lingered for decades, he said.

"The Coast Guard stepped up and said, 'What do we need to do, and how do we do it in a manner that helps the community?'" Garvin said.

Coast Guard officials noted their efforts to reach out to nearby communities, including through meetings and quarterly newsletters. Though the Coast Guard Yard is in a largely industrialized section of Curtis Bay, there are neighborhoods a few miles away in Pasadena, Glen Burnie and Baltimore.

Mary Rosso, an environmental activist and former state delegate from Glen Burnie, said she was glad to hear that the cleanup was finished at the yard and that the Coast Guard has been a good neighbor.

"I trust them," she said.

Coast Guard and environmental officials signed a document Thursday called the Record of Decision, which showed that all parties agree that the site was cleaned properly.

Next comes the de-listing process, expected to take until next year.

Since the federal Superfund program was created in 1980, 1,685 contaminated sites have been put on the list; according to the EPA, 365 have been taken off.

pwood@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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U.S. Environmental Protection AgencyEnvironmental CleanupEnvironmental PoliticsU.S. Coast Guard
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