Fort Detrick

Building 1412 at Fort Detrick was built in the 1950s to house the Special Operations Division. What went on inside was kept secret even from most employees of the biological weapons program. (Sun photo by Algerina Perna / March 15, 2004)

The would-be developers of a residential neighborhood in Frederick are suing the federal government over alleged groundwater contamination from neighboring Fort Detrick.

Waverley View Investors LLC, which owns 92 acres near the long-standing center for biological research, says "the U.S. Army's negligence in its chemical handling and disposal practices" dating back decades has led to levels of trichloroethylene of up to 42 times the federal maximum contaminant level.

The corporation, based in McLean, Va., says the contamination has prevented it from realizing plans to develop the land for 732 homes. It is seeking more than $37 million in a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

"Our client … has made every effort to resolve this matter with the Army," Clifford J. Zatz, a partner with the Washington law firm Crowell & Moring, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Waverley View is left with no choice but to file a lawsuit."

A spokesman for Fort Detrick said he could not comment on litigation.

Spokesman Nicholas Minecci said Fort Detrick has received a "preliminary unverified laboratory report" that indicated "chlorinated solvents in excess of the federal drinking water standard" on the property at 1831 Shookstown Road, just south and west of the Army installation.

Minecci said it was "important to keep in mind" that the groundwater is not being used for drinking water. He said the installation expects to receive a verified laboratory report in about 60 days, with the results to be announced by the Fort Detrick Restoration Advisory Board at its next meeting, in July.

The Environmental Protection Agency has linked the solvent trichloroethylene, also known as TCE, to central nervous system disorders, immunological and developmental effects and some cancers.

In a 29-page complaint, Waverley View recounts waste disposal activities at Fort Detrick from the 1950s through the 1970s, when it says a site known as Area B "was used to dispose of such biological, radiological, and chemical materials as sterilized anthrax, radiological tracer materials, the lethal chemical agent phosgene, industrial waste, herbicides, and defoliants."

The corporation, which acquired the property within the past 10 years, says it believes the 1968 burial of eight 55-gallon drums of TCE in Area B near its property is one source of the contamination.

Waverley View says the $37 million includes the value of the land, which it says was appraised at $12.8 million in 2012, the costs of developing the property and lost profits.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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